Academic Freedom in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania legislature has taken the first dangerous step in restricting academic freedom in textbook selection. The State Senate has unanimously passed a law (.pdf) requiring faculty members to choose "the least expensive, educationally sound textbooks." This vague and possibly unenforceable standard undermines the right of faculty members to select the best textbook, even if it is more expensive than the alternatives. "Educationally sound" also potentially sets a rather low standard for textbook selection. As a legal requirement, it will have a chilling effect on faculty members' ability to exercise their academic freedom in planning courses of the highest quality. Certainly the legislature has no business deciding what is "educationally sound" in a college classroom. Only faculty members have the capacity to choose the books that best meet their pedagogical aims. If there is a tradeoff to be made between quality and price, only faculty members have the professional competence to make that choice. We urge the legislature to eliminate that provision from the College Textbook Affordability, Accountability and Accessibility Act.
The Pennsylvania legislation is also worrying because it is part of a national trend to regulate textbook selection. Certainly rising textbook prices are a serious matter. Increased availability of electronic versions of textbooks that certainly should prove less expensive is likely an inevitable feature of a changing marketplace. But the main ways to reduce the expense of a college education are to increase state appropriations to public colleges and universities and to eliminate unnecessary administrative positions.
see also the story in the Chronicle of Higher Education.