Professors are trusted to assign readings that would best aid students in their pursuit of academic success. However, when a professor assigns a textbook they’ve authored, this trust becomes compromised as a conflict of interest.
It is not uncommon for a professor to choose a work they’ve contributed to, whether it be an entire book or specific readings.
This seems like an ideal instructional method. After all, they are academic professionals who have spent time both learning and teaching the appropriate research related to their field. Having a text written by the subject matter expert who teaches the course would seem like the best opportunity for a student to learn the material in the most comprehensive way possible.
But when the faculty financially benefits from students purchasing an assigned text — after already being compensated through students’ tuition — the act of assigning a personally authored text is ethically questionable.
It is inappropriate for a professor to financially gain from students who are afflicted by such high academic costs. College students are already grappling with expenses like tuition, housing and meals. Benefitting while a student economically struggles in pursuit of a degree does not seem like it would contribute to student success.
Textbooks are already a source of economic strain for many students. According to Collegeboard.org, an individual textbook price can range from $200 to $400. In 2017-18, the estimated cost a student spent on books and supplies was $1,250.
Many universities have programs and policies in place for helping students combat high textbook prices. For example, the USF library’s Textbook Affordability Project (TAP) offers electronic textbooks and textbooks on reserve.
Is it really more advantageous for a professor to choose their own work over the work of another expert in their field? Quality and cost should be essential factors in determining which textbooks would be most suitable for a course.
If professors conclude their own work is the best work for the course they’ve designed, it is necessary for any ethical complications to be considered and resolved.
If a professor stands to make a profit from their students purchasing their work, there are less problematic options they could exercise to ensure a struggling student can combat costly academic burdens.
This can include utilizing the solutions outlined by TAP, such as placing the book on reserve at the university library or working with the publisher to make an electronic version available. Clear communication about the royalties or profits made should be established early in the course, so a student can decide if they are comfortable continuing to study with an instructor they are essentially giving money to.
Most professors devise their courses with student success in mind. Their time and energy are used to help students achieve the necessary learning outcomes. Requiring the purchase of their own textbook is not always necessary to accomplish this, especially when student success could be curbed by the economic strain of education costs.
Paige Wisniewski is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary social science