Prodded by a faculty petition, Villanova University in Pennsylvania has banned the sale of Cliffs Notes, popular digests of literary classics critics say are used by students to avoid reading the books.
The gesture is largely symbolic, since it affects only Villanova's campus bookstore; Cliffs Notes are still sold in independent stores in the surrounding town. But other universities have now come under pressure from their faculties to ban the books, and the publisher is crying censorship.
"One of the goals of a university is offering choices to students, and among those choices is the choice of what to read," said Douglas Lincoln, president of Cliffs Notes Inc.
The company has bought advertisements in Villanova's campus newspaper calling the university's campaign an affront to students.
The inexpensive paperbound Cliffs Notes have been a staple purchase at US universities since 1958, when 16, summarising works of Shakespeare, were introduced. Now there are 220, describing books and plays in fewer than 100 pages each, including plot outlines, character descriptions and analysis.
It is an increasingly popular business as students find themselves with less time and more responsibilities. Several other US companies provide comparable abridged classics in book form, on CD-ROM or on the Internet.
Mr Lincoln said more students use the study guides as supplements than as substitutes. But John Johannes, Villanova's vice president for academic affairs, who ordered Cliffs Notes off the campus, said they are nothing more than shortcuts for students trying to get out of doing work.
"The real message is that education and learning requires active thought and it requires an engagement with something," Mr Johannes said.
"I think people are glad someone finally stepped up and said a college education is about thinking, it's about student learning, rather than about passivity."
He accepts Villanova's 10,000 students can still buy Cliffs Notes from the nearby branch of a national bookstore chain. Or they could rent the movie version of a book, or surf the Internet for other study guides.
But they are missing "the intellectual engagement, the work, the proactive approach, the personal response - the risk-taking", he said. "They're not using their brains, except to get out of reading the books."
"It is disappointing when students are subjected to book-banning and censorship in a university setting."