Faculty Senate discusses textbook rental future

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

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The future of textbook rental was again the topic of a long discussion by Eastern’s Faculty Senate at its meeting Tuesday. Senate members Jeff Stowell and Nicholas Shaw updated the Senate on the progress of the textbook rental discussion, which is still in the stages of gathering information from faculty, students and staff.

Stowell said the next steps in the process include holding a faculty forum sometime before spring break and bringing the issue before Eastern’s Student Senate for review. 

The future of textbook rental at Eastern has been an ongoing discussion for years by Eastern’s textbook rental committee, but the need to take action quickly on the matter has grown exponentially every year and finally reached a point this year where Eastern’s Faculty Senate decided to push the issue along. 

“The issue is the textbook rental committee has been meeting for years and there’s been a little motion here, a little motion there and it finally got to a point where we can’t afford to have the current model continue,” Shaw said. “That has sort of accelerated and forced us to look at this more closely and come up with some strong recommendations.”

Shaw said the committee is meeting with all the different constituencies at Eastern invested in textbook rental to discuss “practical and pragmatic” issues. 

The chief concern regarding textbook rental is the decreasing availability of hard-copy versions of books. Every year more publishers are ditching print versions of textbooks and going to exclusively digital editions of books. That change in supply has forced Eastern to re-think its current textbook rental model. 

Stowell said the purpose of the conversations at Eastern is to open the door for digital materials at Eastern, while also allowing current print editions of books to run as long as a faculty member would wish. 

The financials of textbook rental have also come under the microscope during these discussions. Eastern has not raised its student fee for textbooks in many years, making it one of the only fees at Eastern that has not been raised, unlike athletic fees or the University Union bond fee.

Shaw said the ultimate goal is to get the textbook rental fee high enough to afford both the digital and hard copy textbook rental model. 

Any additional student fee in relation to textbook rental would have to be approved by the Student Senate. 

“The hope is enough students show up to the forum and enough students give us input so that we can represent them accurately,” Shaw said. “Which would increase the chances of them helping us approve these sort of fees.”

One of the recommendations made involves piloting some of Eastern’s online classes, moving them to all-digital textbooks, Shaw said. The next step in this plan would be to move all online classes to digital books and then bring that model to on-campus classes. 

Shaw estimated a plan like that would be four or five years down the road.

“The problem is the further we move down the road the fewer publishers are going to be willing to even entertain the idea of anything that is paper,” Shaw said. 

Shaw noted that Eastern’s current textbook rental system is “extremely affordable” and any changes made to the rental model itself or in student fees would be aimed to keep textbook rental more affordable than other institutions where students have to purchase textbooks. 

“I think rental books will be a part of Eastern for a very long time, but I think we have to move away from paper,” Shaw said. 

Provost’s Report

Eastern Provost Jay Gatrell highlighted the work of Faculty Senate member Nichole Hugo and her work with the Illinois Innovation Network during his Provost’s report to the Faculty Senate on Tuesday. 

Eastern will play host to an IIN event in March, something Gatrell said he was excited about. 

“(I am) really jazzed by this experience because it allows (Eastern) to be a leader,” Gatrell told the Senate. 

Gatrell specifically pointed out the work Hugo has done with the network because she is the first person to teach on the IIN. 

The IIN is a series of “hubs” located across Illinois designed to connect universities, allowing them to share ideas, and offer tools and resources to “accelerate the growth of businesses and industries in the state and beyond,” according to the IIN website. 

Hugo said this undertaking has been an adventure for her because it is the first time this has been done. Hugo had to go to the University of Illinois to get the course she is teaching created and said the diversity of students enrolled in her course from all manner of programs and backgrounds has made the experience unique. 

Gatrell also gave the Senate background information on the conclusion of Eastern’s dean searches for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Education. 

Barbara Bonnekessen was selected for the CLAS position and Laretta Henderson was chosen for the COE position. 

Gatrell said he was excited for the addition of both candidates and was also happy about the successful conclusion of the search which he said consumed a lot of his time. 

The General Education Committee is also going “area by area” assessing learning goals in departments across campus, while also looking at standardized testing instruments that can be used to assess Eastern’s students, Gatrell told the Senate. 

“The good news is we’re having a dialogue about improving general education,” Gatrell said. 

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]