Obama To Take Over Control of College Textbooks?

-By Warner Todd Huston

Candace de Russy over at National Review posted an alarming example of Obama power grab. Or perhaps more precisely it’s yet another alarming example of an Obama power grab. This time Obama apparently is setting the table to take control of what is printed in our nation’s college textbooks.

This one slipped past my radar in August of 2009, but apparently Barack Obama signed the Federal Textbook Act (Download .pdf file) that made provisions for the federal government to take control of the pricing and availability of the text books in our institutions of higher learning (at least the ones that take federal funding).

According to the language of the act, it is all about keeping textbooks affordable for students.

Purpose and Intent- The purpose of this section is to ensure that students have access to affordable course materials by decreasing costs to students and enhancing transparency and disclosure with respect to the selection, purchase, sale, and use of course materials. It is the intent of this section to encourage all of the involved parties, including faculty, students, administrators, institutions of higher education, bookstores, distributors, and publishers, to work together to identify ways to decrease the cost of college textbooks and supplemental materials for students while supporting the academic freedom of faculty members to select high quality course materials for students.

Sounds good, right?

Maybe not so much.

National Review quotes George Mason economics professor Donald J. Boudreaux as saying that this act seems to be “a first step toward federal oversight of the contents of college textbooks.” As proof he points specifically to section C, the publisher requirements section.

(C) A description of the substantial content revisions made between the current edition of the college textbook or supplemental material and the previous edition, if any.

Why does Obama’s overlords need to know what revisions have been made to a textbook? This act is supposed to be concerned with pricing and availability, not content… isn’t it?

Of course, we all know that once government gets its tendrils into your business it takes all power away from you and reassigns it to government. So, once this act is implemented, any federal money involved will give government the opening to begin controlling everything in the process of creating and distributing college textbooks.

As prof Boudreaux points out, if people are upset over the recent newfound control that the conservative leaning Texas textbook commission had over new textbooks, then how upset might they be if the federal government takes over our college textbooks? There should be no difference at all in the reaction if it was really government control that was being opposed.

Naturally, its always about whose ox is being gored with liberals. Texas textbook control: baaaaad. Obama textbook control: gooooood.

I would also point out one other thing. Many professors in our nation’s colleges and universities have hit the lottery by writing textbooks for their own classes, books that their university will then adopt as the “official” textbook for class work. These professors make a tidy sum of money on these expensive, small print run books that their captive student audience is forced to buy. It would seem to me that this Federal Textbook Act could easily eliminate this lucrative but under-the-radar source of income for professors everywhere. Not that I am against that, but it is something for those lefty profs that so love their Obammessiah to think about.

This bill was originally signed in 2008 by President Bush and was introduced by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. It took effect this year during Obama’s presidency. But regardless of who signed it — and this shows that Bush was as bad as Obama for his love of big government — it is a bad idea to allow the federal government to get involved in the production of text books.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: Education, Obama, Textbook


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  • A few things worth correcting:

    1.) This provision of the Higher Education Oppurtunity Act was originally sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN).

    2.) The legislation was signed into law in August of 2008 by President Bush. Under the law the administration has no regulatory authority.

    3.) The legislation is modeled on several state laws including a similar one in Illinois.

    4.) The purpose of disclosing the content revisions was to arm faculty with better information to determine if the newest edition was really worth adopting or should the faculty member stick with the older less expensive edition or allow students to use either edition in their class. The goal was to better allow for demand in the market for used books, which is restricted by the increased frequency of new editions. This provision arms faculty with basic information to make more informed choices.

    There are many areas of concerns with this law and legislating this topic is particularly problematic as you and others have noted, but arming faculty with substantial content change information (which most publishers were already doing) is not one of them.

  • In reply to Scott22:

    I'll note that. Thanks. I was confused by the fact that Obama signed the "Open textbooks act." Until your note I thought they were one and the same. They are not. Thanks for alerting me to my mistake.

  • In reply to Scott22:

    If you

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