David Eide – Opinions Writer
Returning students this year will have noticed major changes when it comes to how we receive our textbooks for courses. For new Gusties who never used the original system, previously Gusties purchased individual textbooks directly from the Book Mark. Now, Gusties pay a lump sum based on the number of credits and receive all their books from Slingshot. I’ve heard a lot of confusion and anger from my fellow students, so let’s get to the bottom of this. What exactly has gone on with textbooks this year?
Personally, I didn’t have the greatest experience with Slingshot, so my perspective may be somewhat biased as a result of that. When I initially logged into Slingshot to see what books I needed for this semester, I was surprised to see no books at all. This seemed a little too good to be true. Sure enough, after a bit of emailing, I found that my classes had a few textbooks not listed at all on Slingshot. Even after the issue was seemingly resolved, it still took a couple of days for all of the textbooks to show up. I have heard similar stories from several other people I talked to, so clearly this is not entirely an isolated case. On the other hand, a number of the people I talked to have had no problems with viewing their books and mostly sailed through the process. Furthermore, it makes sense that there would be a few hiccups while switching to a new system and ultimately I did receive all my textbooks on time and without much of a fuss. Still, it wasn’t a great first impression for the new system.
However, there are other issues with the new Slingshot system besides its implementation. This new initiative has been described to the student body as a move towards achieving “equity,” since now everyone is charged a lump sum of $300 for their textbooks (unless they choose to opt out of the program). I have a couple of issues with this aspect. While this program didn’t really affect me one way or the other as I was already paying around $300 anyways each semester, but this is certainly not the case for many other people. In general, there seems to be a major split between students in STEM fields and students in humanities, with the former seeing their payment decrease while the latter sees theirs increase. The reason for this dichotomy is that STEM courses usually rely upon very expensive, massive textbooks while many humanity courses tend to use more specific texts that often aren’t a part of the racket that is the college textbook industry. In effect, due to the expensive nature of STEM textbooks, the lump sum of $300 implemented by the school can often act as a subsidy to students studying in STEM fields- to the detriment of humanities students who would have paid less that amount.
Of course, this is not an entirely fair depiction of Slingshot as, after all, students have the ability to opt out of the single payment plan and pay for their books normally. However, I’m still not totally happy with this option for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, the fact that students must go out of their way to opt out of the program means that there will definitely be students who may not want to pay but end up doing so because they simply didn’t check their email enough or were distracted and missed the window. Another issue I have is that if students opt out, they will then be required to purchase their books directly from Slingshot or other sellers. While I understand the reasoning behind this choice, I don’t quite feel comfortable with students being forced to procure their own books simply because they didn’t want to pay more than they usually would. I think both systems should have coexisted for the first year or so, after which, the school could have moved to using Slingshot exclusively, as I think that would have made the transition much easier for students, but of course we don’t live in an ideal world.
In order to gain a better understanding of the issue, I spoke with some staff of the Bookmark and asked about the issues I’ve discussed in the rest of the article. As it turns out, a major cause of many of the more technical issues I’ve identified stems from the sunsetting of Webadvisor and the ensuing switch to MyGustavus. This is because Webadvisor featured a button when viewing classes that enabled students to easily purchase the books for their courses, which MyGustavus lacks. Hearing this made me confident that the technical issues of Slingshot (such as the email delay in August and current fulfillment issues) are just growing pains and likely won’t be seen on the same scale next semester. Furthermore, this interview made clear to me that Slingshot itself was not the culprit behind these technical difficulties, but rather it was the end of Webadvisor and the pandemic’s effect on the used textbook market which caused the issue.
This interview also alerted me to several positive aspects of Slingshot that I hadn’t considered up to this point. For one, Slingshot serves some 400 other institutions which goes a long way toward resolving the issue of the shrinking market for used books. Furthermore, Slingshot was deemed to be the most cost-efficient option while also allowing for the Bookmark to maintain their autonomy, as many other similar programs can force their partners to essentially become subsidiaries. Overall, I think Slingshot has potential although my more philosophical objections to the shift remain. If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that you shouldn’t blame the Bookmark for these issues as ultimately they’re doing their best trying to deal with a situation that arose as a result of broader administrative changes that have upset many other facets of campus life. Here’s hoping that things go more smoothly in the future and that some of the more abstract issues with the new program are resolved.