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Students To Testify For Cheaper Textbooks

By Lindsay P. Tanne, Contributing Writer

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Higher Education is set to hear testimony from students, faculty, and student advocates tomorrow on a bill that aims to reduce textbook prices across the state.

The legislation, House Bill 1200—known as the Affordable Textbooks Bill—would require publishers selling textbooks to universities to disclose wholesale prices, a list of all of their products, and an estimated length of time that they expect to keep the product on the market. In addition, the bill would require bundled books to be made available individually.

“It’s good, because it definitely brings the market closer to a perfect economy,” said Chaz M. Beasley ’08, who plans to speak at the hearing. “It keeps businesses from taking advantage of the fact that people don’t know prices, which allows them to drive prices up.”

A unit set up by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides support for student activists, will also hold a press conference before tomorrow’s 11 a.m. hearing.

MASSPIRG Student Chapters Program Director Saffron E. Zomer said that textbook prices have grown prohibitively high for students.

“Students are paying about $900 a year in textbooks, with textbook rates going up at about four times the rate of inflation,” Zomer said.

According to a 2006 MASSPIRG report, 77 percent of surveyed Massachusetts professors said that sales representatives rarely or never volunteered the price of textbooks, Zomer said.

The Affordable Textbooks Bill, she added, would provide the necessary transparency to faculty members, who decide which books students should purchase.

“There’s nothing in the bill that requires the faculty to do anything—it just gives them more information so they can make better decisions on the part of their students,” she added.

Administrators of the Harvard Coop, including President Jeremiah P. Murphy ’73, could not be reached for comment yesterday on how the bill would affect the store’s book prices.

Beasley and Amadi P. Anene ’08—co-founders of the Course-Cost Assistance Program, which provides textbook stipends to low-income Harvard students—encouraged their fellow undergraduates to attend tomorrow’s hearing.

“My main concern is to organize the event so that the bill passes,” Anene said.

“We’re going to have college students come out in their college gear,” Beasley added. “We’d like to fill up a room. We want the Senate and House members to see how much support there is for the bill and how important it is.”

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