UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s new Written Course Materials Policy

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In response to concerns from students, a new policy has been instituted to limit the cost of written course materials for chemistry and biochemistry classes.

The newly formed Written Course Materials Committee, which contains representatives of all the department’s academic divisions, is charged with enforcing the new Written Course Materials Policy that was endorsed by a strongly favorable faculty vote. The committee has also established guidelines that would be the basis for approval or disapproval of written course materials in the future.

The new policy states that approval of written course materials that impose a monetary cost upon students “will be based on the committee’s assessment of whether or not an item provides value in proportion to its cost”.  The policy also states that no-cost alternatives to required and recommended written course materials must be provided to students.

A recent article in the Daily Bruin (below) recapped some of background that led to enactment of this policy.  An editorial in the Daily Bruin on August 28, 2017 supports the new policy and encourages other departments to follow suit. “Departments should be emboldened to provide alternatives to students when a department as large as the chemistry and biochemistry department has already taken the initiative to do so” the editors state.

From the Daily Bruin (by Sharon (Yu Chun) Zhen) – 8/21/17

Chemistry, biochemistry instructors to provide no-cost course materials

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Starting fall, the chemistry and biochemistry department will implement three policies aiming to make textbooks more accessible to students. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Students taking classes from the chemistry and biochemistry department may start paying less for course materials.

Starting fall, the department will require instructors to provide students with no-cost alternatives to course materials and are required to state in their syllabuses whether they profit off the sale of any written course material.

No-cost alternatives include online copies or hard copy library reserves of written course materials. Professors must explain how to access those alternatives in their syllabuses.

Catherine Clarke, chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, said an email that Chancellor Gene Block forwarded her from a student’s mother first brought the problem of textbook prices to her attention. In the email, the mother said she was upset over the high cost of a course reader in an introductory chemistry class.

“It came to my attention that this was a really inappropriately priced material and the mom felt very outraged that her son was required to buy this,” Clarke said.

She said she met with the department about the issue of textbook costs and the faculty decided to create a committee to approve written materials that impose a cost on students.

“All instructors that use course materials that impose a cost upon our students must submit these materials so that they can be reviewed and approved by the committee,” Clarke said. “(The committee) will only approve items that provide value in proportion to cost.”

Clarke added because this policy is still new and fall quarter has not started yet, the department will do its best to ensure compliance.

“We do have a pretty good idea of the kinds of written materials that instructors have used in the past,” Clarke said. “We’re particularly aware of which instructors have used these sorts of materials in the past and will follow up with them.”

Clarke added she hopes every department will implement this policy.

Divya Sharma, the Academic Affairs commissioner of the undergraduate student government, said he thinks it is problematic if professors try to profit off students since the university already pays them. He added he thinks providing downloadable copies of textbook materials is better than asking students to use library reserves.

“I know having reserves in a library does become an issue if students are all trying to access (the same book) at a time,” Sharma said. “I hope (this is implemented) in conjunction instead of one or the other.”

Sharma added his office is working to make sure other departments implement similar policies. For example, Sharma said humanities professors often make reading materials accessible online, even though their departments do not have official policies on controlling textbook prices. His office will lobby to make this policy explicitly official.

Dawn Setzer, a UCLA Library spokesperson, said in a statement the library supports the policy and will work with instructors to align the UCLA Library’s collections with professors’ instructional needs.

“We are fully supportive of the policy and provided the department with information we had gathered through our course materials initiative, our course reserves service, and ongoing partnership with the UCLA Store on course packs,” she said.

Kahlo Baniadam, a third-year psychobiology student, said he thinks the policies will benefit students who are sometimes expected to pay hundreds of dollars in textbooks for chemistry-related classes.

“Since the authors (of the textbooks) are definitely making money, the biggest thing for me is that there will be a free option,” Baniadam said. “(Having free alternatives) is the main thing that will solve all the problems, if the policy is enforceable.”

Baniadam said in some classes, textbooks and course readers were strongly recommended and necessary for practice problems. He added students often had to buy the course readers brand-new because of frequent changes to the material, which he said he thinks caused financial burden to some.

Baniadam added he thinks professors should post lecture notes online instead of requiring students to buy them as textbooks or course readers.

Janet Song, a third-year biochemistry student, said she thinks the new policies increase transparency between students and faculty.

“Textbooks are expensive,” Song said. “My financial situation wasn’t too bad, but I could see how it could be difficult for other people.”