A Pima Community College official ruffled feathers recently when she tried to stop faculty members from telling students they could find textbooks cheaper online than at the college's bookstore.
The administrator later backed off when faculty members challenged her stance.
The flap comes as textbook sales are slumping on campuses across Tucson, both at PCC and the University of Arizona.
The decline mirrors a national trend as schools face competition from online textbook rental firms and sites like Craigslist.
For students, the price of books is a perennial sore point, with new ones often costing $100 to $200 each on campus.
In the PCC incident, Deborah Yoklic, vice president of instruction at the east campus, sent an Aug. 11 email to hundreds of faculty members, chastising them for mentioning online deals.
"I have received information that faculty are telling students to go online to buy textbooks, rather than going through the bookstore. If you have done this, please discontinue this practice immediately," Yoklic wrote.
She suggested such employees were breaking college rules.
"You are expected to support the policies and procedures of the college. This includes placing book orders only through the bookstore, and not suggesting to students that they purchase books anywhere else or even encouraging the practice."
A few days later, Yoklic backtracked in a second email after faculty leaders pointed out there are no rules on the issue.
PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin said Yoklic had good intentions but was simply mistaken.
"She sent her initial email out of an honest desire for college instructors to play by what she believed to be college rules," he said.
Students contacted by the Arizona Daily Star expressed surprise such a missive was sent at all.
"I find it outrageous," said Leslie Jaime, 31, a PCC business student. She gets most of her textbooks at Chegg.com, one of many online rental sites.
Jaime said she recently rented a book for $12.50 that costs $162 at PCC's store.
Peter Baskerville, 20, who's studying filmmaking at PCC, said faculty should be telling students about options as a matter of course.
"I think it's their responsibility as teachers to give us guidance to help us save money," he said.
April Dinius, 28, who studies nursing and is incoming student president at PCC's downtown campus, sees benefits and drawbacks to both ways of buying.
On campus, books are pricier but instantly available. Online buying is cheaper, but there are waits for delivery and problems, if they arise, can take longer to sort out.
At the UA's bookstores, textbook sales are down 11.5 percent this year over last, said spokesman Johnny Cruz, who said the drop is due to students renting books instead of buying.
PCC's bookstore sales surged between 2007 and 2010 but have fallen nearly 10 percent since then, said PCC's Karamargin.
Some campus stores are fighting back by adding more cost-conscious offerings. The firm that runs PCC's stores, for example, now offers its own book rental program.
A July survey by BIGinsight, a trend analysis firm, asked more than 8,500 college students nationwide where they expect to shop for back-to-school items. About 41 percent said college bookstores - a 16 percent decline since 2007.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4138.