Professor lifts student fee for course material

During the summer, University administrators told professor Robert Mertzman that he could not require students to buy online course material from Philosophy Lab, a company that he owns, to pass his class.

Mertzman, who teaches the online class “Issues in Sport,” said he removed the requirement that was printed in the class syllabus at that time, but students said Tuesday night that the change had recently been made.

Just before fall classes began, a “technical glitch” with Blackboard erased Mertzman’s course content, he said.

When Mertzman reloaded his content, two of the five classes had the old syllabus used in his summer class, which included the requirement to pay a fee in order to pass the class.

“When I was notified that those two things were in there, I pulled them off immediately. I was shocked and couldn’t believe they had been posted there,” Mertzman said.

A student in Mertzman’s class, who did not want to be named, e-mailed Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith about Mertzman’s requirement.

In the e-mail, the student mentioned that Mertzman’s syllabus contained the following line: “IMPORTANT: Each student must have their own subscription for the class. The online course materials agreement is for one student for one semester.”

Smith responded to the student’s e-mail saying that the issue had been passed along to Michael Stewart, associate dean of Educator Preparation for the College of Education, and it would be dealt with “appropriately.”

The student also said in the e-mail that an announcement posted on Blackboard said, “Philosophy Lab will send me a list of all subscribed students. Since the course materials you need to do well in the class are not available any other way, you need to be on the list to get a passing grade for the class.”

Mertzman said it was never his intent to write the requirement that way and removed the line as instructed by USF administrators.

Stewart said in an Aug. 31 e-mail to the student that “approximately 80 percent” of students choose to purchase the online subscription to Philosophy Lab, because it is cheaper than purchasing the material in textbook form from the USF bookstore.

The student who wrote the e-mail to Smith said he is aware the bookstore offers the textbook copy, which costs $125.

“What I disagree with is the $75 fee that every student is forced to pay in order to be on the ‘list’ for a passing grade,” the student said in a reply e-mail to Stewart.

Mertzman said Tuesday that he has amended the error by posting a thread on all five sections of his discussion board correcting and informing students of his mistake.

“It was a mistake that it was there in those two sections. I’m very sorry that it happened,” he said. “I never meant for anyone to get the wrong idea and I apologize.”