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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Students question motives for using self-written texts

After a student drops $150 for one textbook, it may be frustrating to see the front cover author match the professor’s name on the class syllabus. Yet, faculty are not picking up a big tab from book purchases.

A USA Today article from earlier this month highlighted George Mason University in Washington, D.C. as a school where students are upset professors are cashing in on students through published texts. Though at UC Davis – and nationwide – there is myth surrounding professor-authored textbooks and the money they make.

California Public Interest Research Group’s (CALPIRGs) textbook advocate Nicole Allen said targeting professors who use their own books works against the fight for more affordable textbooks.

“The problem is the publishers are exploiting students,” Allen said. “In fact, we consider faculty to be our allies.”

Bob Powell, chair of the Academic Senate, said as a faculty member, a chemical engineering and materials science professor for 26 years, textbook writing has non-monetary rewards.

“Having successful textbooks helps the reputation of the university,” Powell said. “Faculty members aren’t rewarded for writing textbooks. It’susually considered to be an extra.”

Another faculty member Dan Sperling, a civil engineering professor, uses his own co-authored textbook for some of his classes, yet a strong money flow is not part of his incentive.

“Money is not the issue – certainly not for me,” Sperling said, who makes 5 percent on each of his $25 textbooks.

To keep costs down for students, Sperling does not require the book in his classes; so only about 50 students of his approximately 90-person undergraduate lecture will buy his book each quarter. His total profit comes to about $60.

Association of American Publishers executive director of higher education Bruce Hildebrande said there is a spectrum of factors professors consider when deciding which book to use. In the best of interest of students, if the professor is a world-renowned expert in the course topic, a faculty-written text is the best option even if some of the publishing royalties go back to the professor.

“The faculty chooses the content,” Hildebrande said. “The faculty doesn’t care if you buy it in print or electronically.”

Textbooks are pricey, but in this technological age there are many ways to read the content – which is the professor’s main concern, not making money off students each quarter, Hildebrande said.

“There are more options and more ways to save than any other time in history,” Hildebrande said about textbook options, such as the e-book website coursesmart.com or contacting publishers directly.

At the UC Davis Bookstore, book department manager Jason Lorgan said professors have various options when it comes to disseminating class material. Professors can publish information at the local level through UCD Repro Graphics or go through a publisher. Other UCD professors have textbooks that are sold at universities other than UC Davis and are sold like any other textbook.

“The author may be on the UCD campus, but [the Bookstore] may not be aware of that,” Lorgan said.

No matter the medium the material takes to the classroom, he said the textbook situation at UCD is average, with more professors using locally published manuals and books.

SASHA LEKACH can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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