Loans and Books: Two Brief Observations Made During the Student Debt Revolt
Many excellent graduate students with whom I have the honor of working receive only modest or no assistantship or fellowship aid. Historically, many have supported themselves in part during graduate school with government-backed student loans. This has always been a source of anxiety for me, but matters grew worse for U.S. students earlier this year when the major federal loan program changed its structure so that graduate students receiving such loans must begin paying them back immediately rather than after graduation. For students studying in the world in which I work, such a scenario is hardly possible. Even students with assistantships are just above the poverty line.
Meanwhile, more and more excellent scholarly resources ideal for the training of these students are being produced. But they are on the market at a price that no starving graduate student can afford and at which most professors would feel guilty assigning them. This reoccurring thought returned to me when I noted the publication of a very impressive looking ethnobiology textbook. It was also on my mind when I spoke last week to an editor of what promises to be the absolutely essential handbook for folklore studies. That volume will be rich beyond measure, but at 680 pages and 29 cents per page how will any of us afford to purchase it? If my library can afford it, I plan to sit and read it cover to cover in the stacks. Excellent scholars are producing excellent work, but the business model fails us, or at least our students.
A glimmer of hope came during the #AFS11 meetings. A group of folklorists have begun discussions aimed at creating an free and open access textbook for undergraduate folklore studies. One possible publication platform being discussed is connexions centered at Rice University. Hopefully folklore studies can become a leading field in the cultivation of Open Educational Resources. I cannot see how we can continue down the path that we are heading.