Friday, December 08, 2006

SCAMMING: Just Say No!

This year, for the first time in a number of years, I am serving on two University committees, one of which deals with grievances and professional ethics. Surprising as it may seem, what I have learned makes me feel better about what goes on at the Law School. Here is one example of a scam that seems over the line.

A Professor teaching hundreds of students requires them to hand in homework on workbook pages custom made for his course. The books are available at the local Kinkos and sold at a profit. Students may not hand anything but the actual purchased pages. Evidently, handing in the correct workbook pages has an impact on the final grade. The professor takes a cut of the sales. The Dean of the College where he works is evidently unconcerned. (This newest practice is evidently a replacement for one that required buying CDs with codes in them so that actual purchase could be verified.)

Outrageous! . . . In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”

Hasn’t the professor simply perfected the casebook editor/casebook publisher scam. (Sorry, Jim, I know how you feel about casebooks but I just cannot use the term “casebook author.”) Think about it. Is there a principled distinction between that professor and thousands of authors (clearly not just in law) who happily issue a new edition every third year whether or not there is enough of a change in their field to warrant it? (Oh, I know Mr. Casebook editor reading this, you would never do it.) In addition, since the demand side of the market is, for all practical purposes, composed of professors who dictate which books will be bought, how are those professors different from a stock broker who mishandles a client’s portfolio?

My usual practice when the memo comes out each semester asking what the assigned materials are for the following semester is to name the book and say “latest edition.” At the same time, I teach contracts and change books every two years because the change forces me to be a bit more on my toes when preparing, but I can honestly say that changing books or upgrading to a new edition has rarely if ever made any difference. I think I could almost get by with the classic Kessler and Gilmore (now that was casebook scholarship!) I had as a student many years ago. If so, that means I have cost 20 years of contracts students many thousands of dollars that went to publishers and editors without any substantial change what goes on in the classroom.

I admire the very small handful of my colleagues who keep using an older edition of a book even when newer editions are created in reaction to the used market. I admire even more the casebook editor who, when Thomson or Aspen comes calling about a new edition, says “there is no need for one.” At least in one area I teach – contracts -- I think all the editors of these books could say that for at least 5 years, probably 10. (And, no, you do not need to have a new edition to include the 15 pages on the CISG you want to add to your book. Just put it online.) Isn’t legal eduction, where the choir claims to be so concerned about the welfare of others, the best place to begin drawing the line when to comes to exploiting students via the casebook scam?

Please express no outrage about Mr.Workbook until you do. (It's Clifford Irving -- in the photo, I mean.)


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