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Obama: “Books are a big scam”

According to the New York Times’ The Caucus blog, Barack Obama was speaking with financially struggling students in in Edinburg, Texas, and had this surprising bit of advice:

“Books are a big scam” he said.

Say what? There were some slightly startled chuckles from the students.

“I taught law at the University of Chicago for 10 years,” he explained. “One of the biggest scams is law professors write their own textbooks and then assign it to their students, and they make a mint.

“It’s a huge racket,” he added.

I’ve spoken now to quite a few law professors who write casebooks, and very few are making a “mint.” But, while “big scam” and “huge racket” seem a bit strong, I do think that textbooks don’t need to be as expensive as they are. Obama’s attack on textbooks is more accurate in the K-12 and college markets than the one he specifically referred to (law); see, for example, the PIRG’s campaign to lower textbook costs.

Which is not to say that law school casebooks aren’t expensive or that they can’t be cheaper. We hope that the eLangdell project will not only produce better and more customized casebooks (our first priority) but also more affordable ones.

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{ 1 } Comments

  1. Obama Blog | October 19, 2008 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I think some professors may indeed make nice profits from their books. But then again, they worked hard to write the books in the first place… As long as they’re charging fair market prices, I don’t see anything wrong with it.