General Question

JaneraSolomon's avatar

Do you think there's anything wrong with a professor requiring his/her students to buy the book the professor wrote?

Asked by JaneraSolomon (1155points) February 7th, 2012

This is surprisingly controversial on college campuses. You take Accounting 101 with Dr. Beezer, and Dr. Beezer’s “Fundamental’s of Accounting” book is required. Do you see a problem with that?

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57 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

As a professor with books in her future (I hope)...I must say it doesn’t sit right with me…I get that, generally speaking, a person might write about that which they’re teaching…but unless you’re the only one writing about the thing you’re talking about, just scan the pages and have your students save money…that’s what I’ll do.

nikipedia's avatar

Sounds fine with me. If Dr. Beezer knows Dr. Beezer’s book is the best, it would be stupid to recommend someone else’s.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I had two teachers that wrote books that we used in class. One teacher made us go out and buy the $120 POS book while the other one just scanned the stuff from her book that we needed for class and uploaded it online. I like the latter option more.

punkrockworld's avatar

I get kind of upset having to buy books in general _

Bellatrix's avatar

If the Professor is a leading scholar in their field, why wouldn’t they use their book? Also, the book is likely to be based on many years of their study and expertise, why should they give it to students? Would we expect anyone else to spend years learning something, then writing a book, finding a publisher and then expect them to say, ‘here have the fruits of my labour’ for free? Students also have to buy a textbook for many of their classes. I still use books I bought when I was an undergrad. They are an investment.

It would also very likely not impress your publisher if you started scanning books they had published. Next time you look to them to publish your next book and they question the low sales and you say… “well I know we didn’t sell many, but I gave hundreds away”... I am sure they will be thrilled.

I also have to choose textbooks for courses as part of my job and I don’t choose without careful consideration of how much use the student will get out of that book in my course and in other courses they will need to take in their degree. I also consider the cost, whether it is available as an e-book, how many devices they can download to, how long their access will last, any additional resources in terms of websites and learning activities. It would be unreasonable for me to do otherwise.

HungryGuy's avatar

While many profs use their own books, it makes it difficult for the students because they get only the prof’s view on the subject. Even if the prof is the leading brain in the subject, hearing the information presented by only one “voice” makes it difficult for the students to comprehend the material. Smart profs don’t use their own books, IMO.

Good for you @Simone_De_Beauvoir :-)

ragingloli's avatar

For the prof there would be no problem, neither practical nor copyright related, to just pass around copies of the necessary pages. Since he is not doing that, he is abusing his position for financial gain.
Here is what should be done: the entire course creates a fund where everyone pays a part into, then you buy (or even better, borrow one from the library) one copy of the book, copy it page by page and give everyone a full free copy.
And if he asks, who is responsible, do the “I am Spartacus” routine.

Bellatrix's avatar

@HungryGuy, if a student was only reading the textbook provided, I would be exceedingly disappointed. That should be a starting point for their work and the same could be argued for any textbook, whoever wrote it. In a university course, students should be doing their own additional research.

flo's avatar

Yes, there should be no such thing as requiring the students to buy the book. Not even strongly suggesting. The universities generally have a rule against it. “Abuse of position” is what that is.

Bellatrix's avatar

Surely students can get the book from the library? Usually, if a text is set for a course (in my university) there will be copies available through the library. So there is never a requirement for them to buy the book.

Jeruba's avatar

Is this question about the purchase of the book per se or about Dr. Beezer’s using his own book as the required text for the course?

I see nothing wrong with a professor’s requiring his own text for a course in the same subject. Why wouldn’t he? His expertise in the subject is probably why he was approached about writing the text. I would consider it a privilege to take the course under the guy who wrote the book.

At the same time, I would expect him to present alternate points of view in matters of opinion and interpretation.

With respect to purchasing the book, as a student I expect to buy books. I consider it part of the cost of education. I don’t condone either copyright infringement or depriving authors and publishers of legitimate compensation for their product. It takes a lot of work and care and resources to publish a decent textbook, and if there isn’t some gain to be made in it, people won’t do it.

For those who really can’t afford the book, there have to be alternatives, but no one who can pay his own way should expect a free ride

dappled_leaves's avatar

If the prof wrote a textbook that was appropriate for teaching the students in his class, what kind of idiot would he be not to use his own book? Obviously, it presents the information in exactly the manner in which he wants it to be presented.

I don’t understand why students get upset by this – to me, it seems like an obvious things to do. And it’s not the professor’s fault that students have to buy books. They’re in university – that is going to happen sometimes.

@Bellatrix It is unimaginable to me that there would be a copy of every textbook in the library for every student in the class. My experience is that a university library might have a copy or two of the current text, more likely a copy or two of the previous edition, and they’re probably all out when you need them. Likewise, the department or the prof might have a copy for a desperate student to borrow, but don’t count on it.

Berserker's avatar

Only if that particular book is required for the particular course, as decreed by whatever education board runs said establishment. As long as it serves your purpose for the class, I don’t really see a problem though. And anyways, either way, you will be buying books.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Symbeline An education board requiring specific books for a university course? Are there any universities under the jurisdiction of such a board? That’s more of a high school thing.

Berserker's avatar

@dappled_leaves Actually I don’t think there are, but I mean it would be a good reason to justify that. I mean I don’t have a problem much with buying the guy’s book, but then I don’t see why his over any other book that dealt with the same subject.

flo's avatar

But it shouldn’t be the professors requiring students to buy their own book. It can only be for financial gain. There is a conflict of interest right there. It should be a parital person/body that does that. If it is a good enough book, they would make their money from all other sources.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@flo Firstly, it is quite normal for a professor to require a specific book for their course, regardless of who wrote it.

Secondly, I disagree that it can only be for financial gain. Imagine how much time a professor spends in lesson planning, and how much time goes into the writing of a textbook for a course. The textbook is an investment of time that the professor should be able to take advantage of in his class. Should he be required to ignore the textbook he wrote, and require a text that someone else wrote? Why would he do that?

Bellatrix's avatar

@dappled_leaves of course there wouldn’t be and I didn’t suggest that. I said the library would carry the book. Some of our courses have hundreds of students. Often now though the library carries e-versions of texts. So students can access them via a computer from home. My point is, if a professor sets a text, there are usually alternatives to purchasing the book.

There would be copies in the library that can be used by students in the library or for either short or very short term loan. There would usually be a few copies rather than one if it was a set text. @dappled_leaves, if the professor sets it up, the library will keep copies that cannot be booked out for more than a couple of hours at a time and cannot be taken out of the short term loan study area to ensure there is a copy available.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Bellatrix Yeah, reserved copies – good point.

Bellatrix's avatar

People don’t get rich writing or selling textbooks. They do get promotions and academic kudos because they write books, but not many academics will get rich based on the sale of textbooks.

john65pennington's avatar

It’s a big time conflict of interest.

Its like me as a cop telling a speeder that I will not issue a citation, if you give me $50 dollars.

Someone should have reported this man a long time ago.

Jeruba's avatar

I think that comparison is just nonsense. Sorry, John, but It’s a whole lot more like a chef serving food at his restaurant using his own recipes (even if they’ve been published in his own cookbook!!!!!) rather than someone else’s. In fact, he can even sell his cookbook right there in his restaurant if he wants, and it won’t bother me. I might buy one.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Jeruba Yes, that’s a much better comparison – where the food is the textbook.

gorillapaws's avatar

Only if it’s a shitty book.

I really doubt that they generate all that much in royalties from a semester’s worth of their students to sell books to their students as a profit scheme. Compared to the hundreds (thousands?) of other classes using that book (if it’s good), it’s small change in the big picture.

I had a logic professor who used the book he wrote, and you could tell how passionate he was about the subject. It was a great class, and the book had a lot of his personality in it. I’m glad to own it.

ragingloli's avatar

yeah, and if you refuse to buy the cookbook, you don’t get to eat the food.

WhiteWingDove's avatar

From currently taking Community College course, in pursuit of an initial degree, I see both sides. First course I took after a 18 year ‘break’ from college was in the field of Bio-psychology and the Professor had written the text. Mind you the text was spiral bound and not that expensive. I have kept that text, because I learned so much! My son took the course @ 4 years after me, and yes, there was a ‘new edition’ but in light of the advances in this field and knowing the passion of the Professor, I totally see why he had revised it, and give him credit for staying in sync with his field and making the information up to date.

On the flip side, I have enrolled in other courses at the same institution where it appeared to me that the Instructor made minimally ‘editorial’ changes (read ‘fixed grammar errors, ‘tweaked’ a sentence) and the new ‘edition’ of course bumped up the price.
I can empathize with today’s College students; they register and continue in pursuit of ‘higher learning’ where no rules apply. There indeed ARE awesome, gifted, talented educators out there, but swimming in the same waters are individuals with much less integrity and perhaps a too-large house note or other financial obligations?

Bottom line, IMHO, it’s a crap shoot, and if you don’t pass the class, perhaps you got schooled in a lesson of ‘Human Dynamics/Motivations 101’, or ‘Self-Advocacy 101’. Soak it in like a sponge, learn and be more aware next term! Better yet, question and seek validation when things don’t seem quite right, don’t delay. With some of these cats, it’s just a matter of time before someone raises the question to the Chancellor…..

Aethelflaed's avatar

It’s a really tricky one. If this is an intro class, nope, it’s not cool to assign their own book, especially if it’s a textbook. They might be the leading professors in your field, but they won’t be imparting almost any of that leading knowledge in a standardized class. And, statistically, there’s a really, really, really good chance that professor isn’t actually the leading professor in that field. Same goes for any required class (for everyone or accounting majors) – because they’re so standardized, it’s really not so much about them being the leading professor on that subject.

Specialty books/books that aren’t textbooks, it’s not awesome if you aren’t actually really big in the field. But, unless you’re asking me to buy an all-new copy of new edition (and especially if that all-new edition isn’t really that different from the old edition), it’s probably not going to be a big deal. If you’re really small potatoes, but your book also only cost me $4 on Amazon, we’re ok. And while textbooks are part of the cost of college, they can vary rather greatly depending upon the professors – I’ve gotten away with spending $130 on only 22 books, so it doesn’t have to be that bad. If they’re actually big in the field, I understand – but then they better be referenced/cited up and down by all those other authors they’re assigning. Their book should never be the only book assigned.

Grad, go for it. There’s probably a reason I’m there studying under you, and at the very least, in grad school, this is very low on the cult of personality stuff that can occur.

SuperMouse's avatar

My brother is a college professor who has published two textbooks in his area of expertise. As far as I know he doesn’t use either of them as required reading for his classes. While my brother is by no means hurting for money, publishing these textbooks hasn’t made him wealthy and as was mentioned upthread, forcing his students to buy them isn’t going to make a huge difference in financial well being. I do think that if he is teaching a class in his area of expertise his students could benefit from using the professor’s own words to support the information provided in lectures, kind of a bonus if you ask me. I don’t think it is unethical for a professor to use their own textbook in classes they teach.

As a student I have to say that I haven’t actually bought a textbook in at least four semesters. If I absolutely have to have a book (which I find is very rare), I rent it from a site such as

From working in a university library I can say that it is not the norm for us to have textbooks in our collection. If we do happen to have a copy, odds are good it is not the current edition. We do have professors that put textbooks on reserve for students to check out. We have one professor who keeps several copies of the textbook he wrote on reserve – his students can check them out for a couple of days at a time.

flo's avatar

The students shouldn’t be obligated to buy (the paper form of the book are sooo expensive by the way) by the professor. You don’t buy my book, you don’t get educated Wrong, wrong wrong.
Nobody is saying they shouldn’t make a living from their books that they worked hard at, just not from requiring it from the students.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Aethelflaed By that logic, no one should be using the prof’s textbook. So how did it get published in the first place? Obviously, we have to assume the prof is qualified to write a textbook in his own field, if we’re talking about whether he should be allowed to require it for his course. Profs do not choose textbooks based on which is written by the best, most qualified person in the field (especially at the introductory level!) – they choose them according to how well they fit with the material they’re teaching in the course. There will be a range of textbooks available of varying quality, with different content, aimed at students at different levels – the prof will hopefully have the experience to know which are good and which are bad, but he also has to be concerned with how well the book overlaps with the information being taught. If it’s a brilliant book, but he’s teaching only chapter 9… that is not a good book for the course.

flo's avatar

When they release number of copies a book has sold, is there any indication what percentage of it is obligated purchase?

flo's avatar

@SuperMouse the problem is not ”..professor to use their own textbook in classes they teach.” The problem is it is them being the ones to make money from it and deciding that their book be the required textbook for the class be his/her book. It should be an impartial body.
…forcing his students to buy them isn’t going to make a huge difference in financial well being. Really and truely it is not about how much money they make, it is the principle. They should be setting the example for the students.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@flo It’s a university. There is no impartial body.

flo's avatar

@dappled_leaves “the prof will hopefully have the experience to know which are good and which are bad,,.”
The professor will find a reason for why it should be her book that is good one. The professor is too biased.

flo's avatar

If there isn’t then that is part of the cause of the problem?

Seaofclouds's avatar

I agree that the professor him/herself shouldn’t be the one requiring their book be used for the class. All of the schools I have gone to have had a department head that chose the books though. If the department head felt that the book by one of the professors teaching the course was the best and wanted that to be the book all of the professors teaching that course used, I’d be fine with that. For example, the college I took Anatomy and Physiology at had 3 different professors that taught the course. They all used the same book, which was picked out by the head of the Science Department. If the head of the Science Department chose one of those professors’ books, I’d be fine with it. I just think it’s different when the professor is pushing their own book. I’ve seen so many different view points in the sciences that I would question if the professor was trying to push their own view point and possibly keep us from even learning about other view points by pushing their own book.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

No. If he wrote the book and is using the book for the course then it’s no different than using a text written by someone else. I don’t see a problem at all.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@dappled_leaves By what logic? I said a lot of things, you’ll have to be more specific.

Obviously, we have to assume the prof is qualified to write a textbook in his own field… Most textbooks have many different authors, and several editors, for the exact reason that basically no one is the expert on everything in all of that field. People are experts on teeny, tiny things. You aren’t the leading expert on the history of western civilization, you’re the expert in your region on the French Revolution, and even more so, the expert on how society reacted to Louis XIV’s fleeing Paris. This is why I’m purposefully distinguishing between textbooks and other academic books; textbooks are broad, far-reaching, and over-simplify, where other academic texts can be quite illuminating.

Profs do not choose textbooks based on which is written by the best, most qualified person in the field (especially at the introductory level!) – they choose them according to how well they fit with the material they’re teaching in the course. If it’s an introductory course, they have almost no control over even five minutes of the curriculum. Even at the upper-division level, there are still strong rules about what must be taught and followed. Professors seem to go more with what publisher offered them the best deal on a textbook.

lemming's avatar

That happened to me, and I wasn’t impressed. He kind of led us to believe that we had to buy the novel, but then later I found out that it was in the library. I just imagined him with boxes of them at home so he was desperately trying to get rid of was so bad too..

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think I’m going to leave this topic and follow this question instead.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t really see a problem with it, but if there is a perceived conflict of interest the professor could keep several copies of the book to lend for the class, give the students the option to borrow or buy. That is assuming the professor is not teaching a class full of 200+ students.

mattbrowne's avatar

It was also common practice when I was a student in Germany in 1983. Nothing wrong in my opinion.

flo's avatar

@mattbrowne I am sure you don’t mean that the fact that it was common practice makes it right. Because of desensitization or just pure lack of knowledge, lots of things were common practice, and then they stopped being common pratice because of sensitization.
A few people have shown why it is wrong, and given the ideal solution/alternatives.

flo's avatar

The professor who hasn’t written a book is getting paid for his services at the university. The same thing for the professor who wrote a book. Whether the student gets the required book from her cousin or a second hand bookstore, or buys it, shouldn’t matter to the university or the professor.

mattbrowne's avatar

@flo – I see the dilemma. There is potential for misuse. No one was required to actually buy the book. One could also borrow the book or get the content from other books. A third option was also common: students taking handwritten notes from the lectures for others to copy. Typically professors recommended 10 – 20 books (or even more for advanced classes) and one was perhaps written by the professor himself or herself. When I bought a book I always asked more senior students how well written the book was (no Amazon ratings in 1983). Professors who wrote lousy books never sold many copies.

JaneraSolomon's avatar

@mattbrowne it’s nice to hear your classes used 10–20 books. Many contemporary college courses use one or even no books, seriously! Academic book royalties are usually very small, such that a professor might only receive $60 if the entire class buys his/her book, thus I wonder if a compromise could be struck like having the professor donate that amount to the “student activities fund” when the class is required to buy the book.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JaneraSolomon – I wouldn’t use the word ‘use’. Such lists just meant that the books could be helpful when studying the subjects of a class. A rule that a book is a must only exists in high schools, not college.

flo's avatar

@mattbrowne Good to know it wasn’t required.

The comparison given above with cookbooks/restaurants doesn’t work for me because it is not a necessity to eat in a restaurant. To students of colleges/universities, education is a necessity.

Jeruba's avatar

To patrons of a restaurant, ordering food is a necessity. No one forces them to go there, but once there they are expected to avail themselves of what the establishment offers.

flo's avatar

@Jeruba Even if it is someone who doesn’t know how to boil water, or doesn’t have cooking facilities at home, they can leave and go to other eateries, if they don’t like something.

Jeruba's avatar

And they can register for a different course, go to a different school, or go buy (or borrow) books on any subject and teach themselves. No one is compelled to take a particular course from a particular instructor.

I’m just trying to keep it parallel.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Jeruba Schools are thousands of dollars a semester, and you can’t drop out after a certain date (without serious financial and/or GPA ramifications); restaurants are $5–50 bucks and each visit lasts, at most, a few hours. You also have to go to the schools that accepted you; restaurants are more of a “we’ll let you in, then maybe kick you out if you’re just awful” kind of thing. Students do have to take certain classes, and they cannot always take them with another professor. And while food preparation is always something you can do at home should you so choose, you cannot get a diploma without a school. This is really not at all a good analogy.

flo's avatar

Right on the money @Aethelflaed there is no parallel at all.
Eating out is something of a luxury. Nobody needs to eat out. Patrons go in, if they see flies, or some worker is picking her nose, the menu is not like what was advertised, they leave.

If the restaurants are below standard, patrons can go to the supermarkets and buy good stuff that don’t require cooking, or buy cooked food. or start learning how to cook. There university professor that requires his students to buy his book, is like an employee requiring that he gets promoted instead of one of the other employees. He should have no say in it. The sale of his books is between him and his publisher. Ideally he should not know which students did or didn’t buy his book.

flo's avatar

If some chef decided to give a discount on the course she is giving to her hobbyist students who happen to have bought her book, that would be completely a different thing. There is no rquirement, there is just a choice between taking the regular course, and the special.

shelovesbees's avatar

I do NOT think it should be allowed for a professor to assign his own text book. I am currently in a class where the professor’s own text book is required and it is full of biased information rather than actual facts. History text books should not have an opinion, this one does. Allowing professors to use their own text book makes room for distorted information.

gorillapaws's avatar

@shelovesbees Welcome to Fluther! Why not bring evidence (i.e. primary sources) to support your claims of bias to the professor’s attention and discuss it with him during office hours? Any professor worth his salt would respect a student for challenging him in a scholarly manner.

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