Yesterday Ken and I had lunch in Harrisburg. That’s not terribly unusual, or blog-worthy. But yesterday we were joined by a couple of faculty members from private universities, who were in town and we took the opportunity to have lunch and talk about faculty issues across the state.
Over and over during the course of lunch the four of us kept returning to our concern du jour — the passing last week of the “Textbook Bill”. If you missed it, this piece of legislation was one of the 21 different pieces collected together in House Bill 101, known as the Omnibus School Code Bill, and was passed last week over Governor Rendell’s veto. (for reference, here is the text)
I thought you all might be interested in the conversation. I don’t remember exactly who said what, but it’s not that important, anyway…
It started with this —
“So how did this get to be law? We thought it was dead and gone.”
“As you know, this has been kicking around since last summer (’09) when it was proposed as part of a package on school affordability. It languished after that, though one piece of that package, articulation, was put in the fiscal code (aka the budget) last October. The Senate passed it as stand alone in June [this year], but the House Ed committee didn’t take it up until their post-Labor Day session, or had it on their agenda, then pulled it off the agenda. They didn’t vote on it. Lo and behold it came back in the Senate version of the School Code bill, with all the sweeteners in it that garnered lots of votes. There was no time to amend allowed — it was fast-tracked — and…Then the Governor vetoed it, ostensibly over the one piece that provided for charter school tax exemption, and the House, without warning, overrode the veto last Monday after the pension reform vote.
“Remember, the Senate wasn’t supposed to hold any votes after the election, but did.”
“It seems pretty toothless in terms of penalties…”
“The provision in it for discipline doesn’t provide for any penalty [see sec 2004-F.B.3]. It doesn’t say a fine, or 30-days in jail, or anything…”
“I can’t imagine a dean wanting to call the state police…or the local sheriff…”
“But you can always fall back on the academic freedom clause [see section 2004-F.C.2].”
“It at least memorializes in state law the idea of academic freedom.”
“That could be important.”
“So how do they police it?”
“They don’t. Even if you have a list of textbooks and prices, you can’t know the other choices being made.”
“I wonder if it’ll lead to more mass adoption of texts.”
“True. The least expensive becomes the common text. The common denominator.”
“What does the committee do?” [Ed note: the legislation sets up a “College Textbook Policies Advisory Commitee” — see section 2009-F]
“The textbook people don’t have much representation. Nor do the independent colleges.”
“Nor does anyone else. APSCUF has one person appointed by the Chancellor.”
“And there are 4 students.”
“How many on the committee?”
“Twenty as I count it.”
“And what do they do?”
“It’s like a Star Chamber.”
“It does a lot of ensuring and encouraging. But the big one is to recommend more legislation, as needed.”
As you can imagine, lunch didn’t digest that easily from there, since further conversation included the budgetary and political landscape — and mention of Governor-elect Corbett’s “pledge” to cut all state agencies 10% off the top (this would seemingly include both PASSHE AND PHEAA).
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
NB I hope you all saw the Inside Higher Ed piece yesterday commenting on SUNY-Albany’s October program closings http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/11/22/petsko.