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Why Can’t the Lexington Media Leave UK English Alone

December 3, 2007

I hope everyone interested gets a chance to check out Randall Roorda’s editorial in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader.  Randall, my dissertation adviser, condemns the journalistic irresponsibility of local Lexington television news reporter Heather MacWilliams of Channel 36 news, and he also refutes the near-sighted argument of an earlier Herald-Leader editorial.

For those unfamiliar, there’s a backstory here.  Several weeks ago, MacWiliams approached the university and proclaimed that she was interested in doing a report on the “rising cost of textbooks.”  The dean of UK’s College of Arts and Sciences, Steven Hoch, asked Randall to speak on behalf of UKs English department, basically suggesting that MacWilliams was going to fry UK all the more if the Director of the Writing Program didn’t make his voice known. 

Essentially, MacWilliams accused the UK Writing Program of operating a scam operation, where students are forced to purchase artificially inflated textbooks so that the coffers of our plush writing program might be filled.  Since ENG 104 is the only course required of every student at UK, the English department is naturally responsible for the purchase of more textbooks than any other department at UK, and many of these purchases are ENG 104 texts. 

However, as Randall points out, it’s just not that simple.  We’re forced to “inflate” the price of our texts because we’re forced into deals with larger publishers, and because we must accomadate copyright compensations. 

As someone who teaches classes and compiles syllabi, I can say that while English professors are bookish people, we certainly make every effort to keep costs down for students.  The textbook situation is complicated , as Randall explains in his article.  And while no one likes paying $50 for a book seen as irrelevant or not useful, students must realize that college professors are not enemies of the poor and oppressed.  We ARE the poor and oppressed.  Chiding the English department at UK while simultaneously ignoring UK Athletics’ extravagance and negligence is like kicking a homeless guy in the nuts and then asking him for a few spare dollars to help buy a mink coat for a wealthy neighbor.


From → Lexington, News, Pedagogy

  1. In C.S. Lewis’s words (I know you don’t like him, Andrew, but you should give his space trilogy a chance): “Fellows of colleges do not always find money matters easy to understand: if they did, they would probably not have been the sort of men who became Fellows of colleges.” (That Hideous Strength)

  2. Josh permalink

    How about exposing the “scam” of the Top 20 plan itself, and how it leads to expotentially rising tuition costs as the quality of undergraduate education has suffered? About how it has lead to the net loss of faculty in Arts and Sciences during a record gain of new students (most of whom will take Arts and Science scourses)? But no, instead of finding out where the $30k of student debt goes, these “journalists” would rather get outraged over a $50 textbook. That’s not where the students are getting reamed.

  3. Jay permalink

    All fuming about the downtrodden of the English department aside, the Writing Program textbook policy DOES gouge students. There is no reason to bind the small paperback “Award Winning Essays,” which is required, with a brand new copy of the St. Martin’s Handbook containing a tiny UK-specific introduction and sell it to students for $68 other than, as Roorda himself says in his own editorial, to make money for the Writing Program. “Award Winning Essays” could be sold separately for a low price, and students would then have the option of buying a used handbook for a reasonable price, either at the bookstore or online. “Because we need the money!” or “Because the rest of the University gouges students worse!” are NOT acceptable reasons for this practice.

  4. Jay: If you’re writing as a student, I understand your frustration. However, what exactly do you think the writing program does with all of this money? Thanks to these “ill-begotten gains,” we are now able to make copies (which helps instruction in class), we are able to provide a media library and digital cameras to take photo essays, and we are able to establish curriculum development groups to better serve the needs of the writing program and improve the quality of our education on a program-wide basis.

    You should direct your frustration to the university administration, which continues to exploit the College of Arts & Sciences. I think every writing program teacher at UK would love to assign less expensive texts, but not at the expense of our education.

  5. Bob permalink

    What is particularly ironic (even hypocritical) is that “Award-Winning Essays” and the other required book “The Engaged Citizen” are chock-full of essays on the evils of waste and consumerism, yet the English department is forcing students to buy a product that is by definition non-recyclable. Don’t spend all semester preaching to students that they should try to make a difference if you are going to defend the status quo.

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