Call the bluff of professors who insist that “the textbook is a compulsory reading.” Photo: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum
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To buy or not to buy?

If there’s one thing that unifies us as university students, it’s the collective and often unprofessed thought that textbooks are too expensive and, sometimes, useless. Frequently, professors will assign a textbook for a course that only ends up being used twice all semester. It’s insulting to think that students are expected to have hundreds of dollars laying around when tuition is already upwards of seven thousand dollars — more than triple that if you’re an international student. 

Universities are already riddled with institutional barriers given their entry price — textbooks only exacerbate this issue. The worst part of this textbook problem is when professors assign a textbook written by themselves or a “trusted colleague” in their department, which we know is just a euphemism for the word “friend.” 

Now in my third year, I can say confidently that I do not believe I will buy another textbook for the remainder of my university life — at other times, I’m not so sure. It gets stressful worrying about whether opting out of buying a textbook will come back to bite me later on. I call this worry “the textbook dilemma.” To buy or not to buy?

I remember vividly spending $120 on the most obscure French textbook (disclaimer: the rest of the class was great) that easily could have been passed on to another student. I made sure to keep the textbook in pristine condition and not use the online access code it came with, in order to ensure that when second semester finally rolled around, it would be a lucrative buy in the second-hand textbook market. What rubbed salt on the wound was not finding a single buyer for it — I kissed that $120 goodbye, and didn’t even get the benefit of the book’s online content. 

Slowly, I’ve learned to call the bluff of professors who insist that “the textbook is a compulsory reading.” An extra couple hundred dollars each semester comes in handy for the necessities of life, which must be taken into consideration when constructing and sharing a course syllabus. The times of freely-loaned high school textbooks seem like a fever dream nowadays. In my elementary and secondary school life, there was never a focus on the extra funds needed for books — which helped out immensely. I went to school at ease knowing there was nothing in terms of content that I was missing out on. My parents had peace of mind knowing the same. 

The choice between financial stability and education shouldn’t be a problem that exists in Canada if our goal is to foster an equitable society for all people. Equitable opportunity begins in our youth and in the institutions that shape them, such as our universities. Doing away with the exorbitant price of textbooks is a start toward achieving this not-so-noble goal.