Mandating electronic copies hurts academic freedom

By By Chronicle Senior Staff

By Chronicle Senior Staff

Right now, the Utah State Legislature is considering passing a bill that would require textbook companies to provide an electronic copy of school materials that could be translated into Braille or an audio recording for the visually impaired.

While well intentioned, this bill would ultimately hurt academic freedom.

The Utah Legislature does not have the power to dictate what publishers outside the state of Utah do with their products, and therefore, professors considering various class materials would be artificially limited to textbooks that provide an electronic copy.

Legislators disagree on how the law would be practically interpreted, but it would amount to limiting available resources to educators. Publishers who do not wish to provide an electronic version would not be able to sell their textbooks to Utah schools.

If all textbooks were of equal quality, this wouldn’t be a problem-but they obviously aren’t. What if the worst available U.S. History text happens to be the only one that offers an electronic copy? Unfortunately, this law would make the purchase of other, higher quality textbooks impossible.

This law also limits the ability of professors to use their own texts, something that could be detrimental to students.

Professors should be able to choose whatever class materials they feel best reflect the subject matter they are teaching. They shouldn’t have to limit their selection because a book of better quality does not provide an electronic copy.

It is important to treat everyone equally, and people with disabilities have all the same rights to an education as anyone else. However, we should not sacrifice the quality of learning for everyone to save some inconveniences for a few.

Currently, when a book comes without an electronic file, the entire text has to be manually scanned into a computer and then transferred into Braille. This process is time-consuming and often causes students to fall behind in their classes during the first few weeks of a semester.

Yes, it is unfortunate that the process of scanning a book is so time-consuming-but wouldn’t it just be better to come up with a more efficient way to transfer currently used textbooks into Braille or an audio recording than create legislation that dictates which books a professor can and cannot use?