UB to consider regulating professors' self-published textbooks

Faculty Senate Executive Committee discusses professors selling books to students


Professors can tend to forget a $100 textbook can be the equivalent of two or three days pay for a student, according to Stephen Dyson, a classics and anthropology professor.

He said professors shouldn’t be pocketing that money either.

“We have to be conscious of what we assign and really avoid any sense that we are profiting from something we probably shouldn’t be profiting from,” Dyson said.

On Wednesday, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee discussed making policies to regulate professors assigning and selling their self-published textbooks. UB currently has no policy on professors assigning their own textbooks for their courses, or on professors accepting cash from students for books.

“I think we can say there may be, at least it appears, the misuse of application of faculty publishing and assigning textbooks,” said Ezra Zubrow, Faculty Senate Chair.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee will assign committees to review the issue at its next meeting on Feb. 25. Zubrow said making a policy regarding the issue is up to the Faculty Senate.

The Spectrum published an article in November reporting UB did not regulate professors’ self-published textbooks, and that at least four UB professors assign their own textbooks for their courses – with some making students pay them in cash.

Concerns over professors profiting directly from students caused Ernest Sternberg, an urban and regional planning professor, to email Zubrow and suggest the issue be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. Sternberg’s email outlined potential polices UB could enforce, but it was not an official motion.

Zubrow admitted he was surprised to learn professors were accepting cash from students in the classroom.

“That crossed my mind as possibly going across the line,” he said.

Robert Granfield, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, had a meeting with Senior Provost for Academic Affairs A. Scott Weber and Faculty Director Jim Jensen in November to “explore some of the issues” after The Spectrum article was published.

Granfield spoke with officials from the University of Minnesota, which has several regulations on professors assigning their own textbooks for courses. Granfield said the University of Minnesota requires that a faculty committee decide whether a professor can assign their own textbook.

University of Minnesota also prohibits any transaction of currency between students and professors.

“We can understand why,” Granfield said. “The potential for misconduct is rather significant.”

Michael Cowen, a mathematics professor, said students should pay professors for textbooks through a departmental office rather than exchange cash in the classroom, adding that it “at least would be a less offensive way of doing it.”

Peter Elkin, a biomedical informatics professor, said professors should not sell their textbooks directly to students, as it “gives a conflict of interest appeal to the whole thing.” He said some professors are inclined to assign their own textbook rather than another because of the profit, notoriety and grants that could be received by their book being used.

The Spectrum reported in November that adjunct assistant professor Brian Reynolds wrote and assigned his own textbook for COM 101, for which he is the sole professor.

Cynthia Tysick, an associate librarian and Faculty Senate Secretary, said on Wednesday that the COM 101 textbook is a “compilation” of many faculty members’ work, so Reynolds is not the only person receiving profits from the text. He is just the only one teaching the course.

She said the communication professors chose to self-publish in order to reduce the price students would have to pay. She said she is unsure of the “margin of profit” of the COM 101 textbook.

Joseph Mollendorf, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, said a potential regulation would have to be carefully worded, so professors who publish quality textbooks may still be allowed to assign them. He also said professors should not be able to sell them directly in the classroom.

The next Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting is Feb. 25.

email: news@ubspectrum.com