Committee formed to draft policy on professors assigning own textbooks

'Spectrum' editor presents reporting to Executive Committee

textbook2

Ezra Zubrow was sitting with a colleague drinking coffee when he first learned that UB professors were assigning their self-published textbooks in an article by The Spectrum in November.

“When I read it, I was amazed. It was eye opening,” Zubrow said. “I turned to the other faculty member and said, ‘Did you know this was happening at our university?’”

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee assigned a committee to draft a policy on professors assigning self-published textbooks after a Spectrum editor presented her reporting to the Executive Committee Wednesday.

textbook
By Kainan Guo |

Economics professor Alex Annas speaks at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting. The Executive Committee discussed making policies about professor assigning self published textbooks.


Emma Janicki, The Spectrum’s managing editor, wrote an article in November 2014 detailing how at least four UB professors assign their own textbooks for their classes, with some having students pay them in cash in the classroom. The article is currently up for an award in the general news reporting category in region one of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Janicki told the committee that the idea for the story came from students enrolled in The Spectrum class who brought up the issue. Members of the committee asked Janicki what students’ feelings are about buying a textbook that their professor wrote.

“Student opinion varied. Some said, ‘This seems really weird. Why isn’t it at the bookstore? But others said at the same time it can be cheaper and it does go along with the homework,’” Janicki said. “So they really went from all ends of the spectrum.”

Stephen Dyson, a classics and anthropology professor, asked Janicki if it was possible professors like Dietrich Kuhlmann – who assigned his own textbooks for STA 119 – wanted to write their own textbooks to offer a new perspective on the material.

Janicki said, “With a statistics class, I’m not sure how much other stuff can be brought in.”

Members of the executive committee raised concerns over professors profiting from their students, especially when it involves exchange of cash in a classroom.

Joseph Mollendorf, a professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department, said the biggest issue is professors taking cash from students in the classroom.

Janicki reported that students in Donald McGuire’s UGC 111 lose 15 percent of their grade if they don’t buy his textbook, because it is needed for quizzes and tests. The text costs $120 and is purchased and used through a website. The text cannot be downloaded and expires once the semester ends.

Alex Anas, an economics professor, said a policy should make professors have reasonable prices for their textbooks. He said monitoring what professors make from their textbooks though could be difficult, as professors could lie about how much they are making.

Zubrow created a sub-committee at the end of the meeting to draft a policy within 10 days. He said he wanted the committee to have diverse views to “fight out” fundamental issues.

"I think it would be good to bring out some kind of resolution before this academic year,” Zubrow said.

Tom Dinki is a senior news editor and can be contacted at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com