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I'm a first year law student in the UK. For our EU Law class, our professor declared that we must bring an unannotated physical copy of Blackstone's EU Treaties & Legislation 2018-2019 to our exam and use it. Thus we must buy it.

Our Prof admitted that these laws are free online. But we obviously can't bring our own printouts to the exam, as the invigilators can't check each student's printout. The professors for my three other classes don't require us to buy any book for the exam, as they'll provide us with the legislation for the exam.

  1. Thus why don't the EU Law professors do the same? I wonder...laziness?

Our professor ought to provide the legislation, because the book

  1. is a waste of money. Statues and legislations change yearly, and this book's going to be outdated. In fact, scroll down the Amazon page, and you'll see that the book has a new edition published yearly.

  2. is too eco-unfriendly! 1 sheet/2 pages x 696 pages x 200 students = 69,600 sheets! And the professor has been requiring this book for many years.

  3. may be unaffordable. It's £14.99 + £3 VAT, which is under the poverty threshold.

I emailed our professor many times, but he never replied. I prefer to stay confidential, and not to confront him or the administration face-to-face. I emailed the administration, but they just keep repeating the professor's order to buy the book.

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    Professors can't force you to do anything, including buying books, so -- disingenuously -- the answer is no. But, that's probably the wrong question to answer. What question would you like answered? I can speculate: Is it fair? No. Will the exam be harder if you don't? Possibly. But speculation doesn't help. Perhaps you can rephrase your question? – user2768 Jan 29 at 8:02
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    It’s only about 3 beers, buy it... – Solar Mike Jan 29 at 8:19
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    @SolarMike Nearer to ten, on a student budget, standard.co.uk/go/london/bars/… – user2768 Jan 29 at 8:23
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    What do you mean with "which is under the poverty threshold"? From what I understand, the Wikipedia page that you link gives an indication of a minimum daily income that defines poverty, to be valid internationally (as an average, I assume?). It's completely unclear to me how one should compare this number with the one-time cost of a book for a student living in the London area. – Federico Poloni Jan 29 at 9:41
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    as the invigilators can't check each student's printout --- How do the investigators know whether the books have been annotated without checking each page of each student's book? How are students bringing their own books addressing the concerns raised regarding bringing printouts? I also don't understand why the obvious solution to both necessity of the information and security of the exam isn't used --- the books would be incorporated into the cost of the course and then books, previously purchased by the school and kept locked up until the exam, are handed out to students during the exam. – Dave L Renfro Jan 29 at 10:01
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As user2768 already pointed out in a comment, the question is not whether the prof can force you (no, they can not), but if it is reasonable / fair to require a specific book for an exam.

The answer can depend on many factors:

  • Is the professor the author of the book? If yes, I would see an issue because this would boost their personal income. This does not seem to be the case in your situation.
  • Can the exam be completed without the book? E.g. in technical fields, it might be helpful to have a formulary, in languages a dictionary, etc. In most cases, it it just reasonable to use such a book because otherwise you would have to memorize too many facts / formulas, etc.
  • Is the book a pre-requisite for doing the exam? I did not study law, but from my understanding, one of the natures of law is to derive conclusions based on written text (especially laws). Therefore, it is impossible to do the exam without access to the original law text. So in your specific case, I would say the professor has to require the book, otherwise it would be impossible to do a proper exam.
  • Is the price / effort unseasonably high? In your case the short answer is "no". In fact it is extremely cheap.
  • Are there reasonable alternatives to a printed book? Electronic versions of the text would provide an unfair advantage over students using he paper version since they are searchable, in addition it is difficult to guarantee the sanity of the device. One solution might be to provide each student with a computer holding a local copy of the law text and having the internet connection disabled during the exam. The university would need a tremendous infrastructure for that.

To make a long story short: Buy the book. And don't throw it away after one year ;-). Maybe you can hand it over to a student next year.

One additional idea: If you are having some sort of students association: Ask them to organize a bookshelf for such kind of literature.

  • Re purchase by the students assoc... How many students 20? 30 or 400? – Solar Mike Jan 29 at 8:47
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Let me change the situation a bit. I am another law professor (hypothetical) and I'm about to give you an exam in which you will be asked very specific questions about very specific laws to which you must respond.

I say to the class that "You will be permitted to bring a fresh, un-annotated, version of Blackstone to the exam, but no other materials".

How would you then respond?

My guess is that the prof has actually done the above, but in a particularly clumsy way. He gains nothing from the requirement other than the opportunity to ask you more detailed questions than you would be expected to answer from only your remembered knowledge.

But perhaps he also wants to "force" you to spend some time with Blackstone and to be able to use it effectively under pressure, as a lawyer or barrister might be required to do.

A lit prof might also want students to bring a fresh, un-annotated version of, say, a particular edition of The Iliad to an exam. Pain in the tookus, of course, but not unethical, as long as s/he isn't the translator of the edition.

It may be possible for you to take the exam unaided, of course, but that would be your risk and, I think, a fairly high risk.

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In general, it's probably not acceptable for a lecturer to assume all his or her students can buy a specific book. It may be acceptable to expect them to obtain a copy though, especially if they make arrangements with a University or departmental library.

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