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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Battle of the Books: Ethics Sideswiped as UMass Amherst Employee Lies to Obtain Coveted Textbook List

After an unusual case of email identity fraud stunned faculty, embarrassed a bookstore, and saw a manager severely reprimanded at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the incident served to expose the competitive and often deceitful nature of book buying between campus bookstores and private companies.

In August 2008, UMass Amherst assistant English professor Suzanne Daly confronted Ken Kahler-the manager of the Textbook Annex, the University’s on campus bookstore-with her suspicions that in a recent email to Daly, Kahler posed as the parent of a student registered in Daly’s ENG 132 class to receive textbook information.

Information, Daly said, that could get business for Kahler’s bookstore, which was intentionally not provided with Daly’s book list.

“The class he inquired about has 300 students, so there’s money to be made,” Daly said in an email to the author. “When I confronted him, he admitted that he did not have a daughter in my class and that he had deliberately deceived me in order to steal our orders from the bookstores with whom we placed them,” Daly added in a separate e-mail she sent to Nat Herold, the co-owner of Amherst Books, the private bookstore that carried the textbook necessary for Daly’s English class.

The Textbook Annex, like the Campus Center bookstore at UMB, is supplied textbook inventory by the Follett Higher Education Group, a provider of academic and collegiate products and services. However, faculty at all UMass campuses have discretion as to which bookstore-on campus or off-they provide with their booklists; the recipient having a clear advantage over bookstores that have to order books upon student request.

Daly said that virtually all of the departments in the sciences and the entire business school at UMass Amherst uses the Follett-run Textbook Annex, leaving only a minority of professors in a few humanities and social sciences departments to order their books through local independent bookstores like Amherst Books or Food for Thought Books, both of which Daly has ordered from.

“…our throwing a few crumbs to the independents who do so much for the community in no way endangers Follett’s hold on the market,” she said.

The community involvement Daly is referring to is the contribution independent bookstores make to the local culture in Amherst, Mass. In the past, local bookstores have sponsored readings for local writers, including students in UMass Amherst’s MFA program, held readings and book signings for a range of regionally and nationally known authors, organized events for children, and sponsored presentations by community groups.

“They [independent bookstores] are truly part of what makes the five college area unique,” said Daly. “As far as I can tell, Follett has made no such effort in the time I’ve been here.”

Daly stressed that professors receive little to no monetary incentive from private bookstores in exchange for book lists. Instead, she said student preference for independent bookstores-found through polling students in class-and the quality of service she receives from them cause her to list outside of the Textbook Annex.

Although Daly said nothing like this had ever happened to her before because she doesn’t usually teach such large classes, the student newspaper at UMass Amherst, the Daily Collegian, claimed Daly’s experience with Kahler wasn’t an isolated incident.

According to William McGuinness, author of “‘Perfidy’ At Annex”, published 9/3/08, a letter of apology had been sent to 15 faculty members at the University who were the targets of similar emails requesting textbook information.

Since Daly’s complaint against Kahler to the UMass Amherst Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance and the Director of Auxiliary Services, Daly was sent an apologetic email assuring her that Kahler had been ‘severely reprimanded’ by both UMass officials and his supervisor at Follett, and that any textbooks received from information attained in the email fraud have been pulled from Annex shelves.

Daly said she hopes this incident will reinforce the need for all players in the UMass Amherst community to recommit to the values that the University is supposed to represent.

“I hope that people in the campus community-and Follett is part of the community, whether or not they see it that way-will think carefully about the kind of relationships they want to create and sustain.”

Olesia can be reached at [email protected]