Textbook requirements create dilemmas for professors


Erin Eacona, sophomore integrated health studies major, stocks shelves with textbooks at Campus Book and Supply on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.

Cameron Gorman

When shopping for textbooks this semester, you may have seen a familiar name on the spine- the name of the professor who assigned the book to you.

When professors assign textbooks to their classes, students are expected to comply with the order. But what of textbooks that are not only ordered through the bookstore, but written by the same professors who assign them?

“A few years ago, a publisher contacted me asking me to write a book,” said Debra Clark, an associate professor in Kent State’s Foundation, Leadership and Administration department. “I hung up on her and thought it was a scam. On about the fifth call, she shouted into the phone and said, ‘Please do not hang up; this is not a scam.’”

After writing the textbook, Clark required students to purchase the material for her class.

“I had been wanting to write a textbook for my class because no one book covers the multiple content areas of my class — education, history, education law, education policy, teacher professionalization and human diversity,” Clark said. “To cover all of the topics, students would have been required to buy multiple books. So for years my students had no textbook. That was problematic for the pedagogical purposes of the class.”

Linda Williams, an associate professor of psychology who also wrote her own book, said that she feels most professors write their own textbooks in order to teach specific topics not otherwise covered in other books.

“I wanted the students to learn about (ethical) egoism and ethical relativism. Because no reputable philosopher would seriously hold these views, I couldn’t find anything that I liked in the secondary literature that addressed these topics and could be read in one sitting by my students,” Williams said. “Writing my own summary of these allowed me to cull these positions from several different and longer sources and put them altogether in one shorter and hopefully more coherent piece.”

The price of textbooks in general has risen dramatically — by 6 percent per year from 2002 to 2012 — according to the the U.S. Government Accountability Office. With the increasing burden, some students feel that it is important for professors to ensure the books bought at the expense of students are used thoroughly and throughout the year.

“I paid $600 in textbook fees this semester, which is definitely on the high side for students,”  said senior fashion merchandising major Dana Palumbo. “And granted, I’m in senior level courses, but I think that’s one of those things to consider that textbooks are getting increasingly more expensive, along with the tuition of college. So, I think professors need to keep that in consideration when they’re assigning textbooks.”

Royalties that the professors may be making off of the sales of the books, are, in fact, still an issue for students like sophomore political science major Jaime Sammons, who are required to purchase the books.

“I don’t think it’s fair we have to pay for it because it’s their book and (the professor) didn’t even tell us about it beforehand,” Sammons said. “Plus, it’s a way for her to get her book sales up, but only because it’s a requirement, not because we actually wanted to buy it.”

When sold through the bookstore, the royalties from sales are indeed being passed to professors, Williams said —  but they aren’t making professors rich.

“The bottom line is, no faculty member would make any substantial profit from this kind of thing unless his (or) her book was adopted by other faculty in many other universities, which would be pretty rare these days, ” Williams said. “The reality is that faculty aren’t making a financial killing by requiring texts they wrote themselves. I have made exactly $0. The only ones making any money, I presume, are the publishers, which is how they stay in business and continue to solicit more manuscripts from faculty.”

When their books are sold through the campus bookstore, the professors are paid royalties from their publishing contracts — not through Kent State.

“The bookstore does not offer ‘profit kickbacks’ to authors of any books, including faculty authored titles,” said Kent State Bookstore Manager Lisa Albers. “Faculty authors are contractually compensated by the publishers who publish their textbooks.”

Williams’ book, “Taking People Seriously,”was $25 online and $40 for a hard copy — less than some other textbooks in the university’s bookstore.

“I think it’s fair as long as their textbooks are a better alternative to generic textbooks. It would also be unfair if their books were significantly more expensive than the alternatives,” said sophomore digital media production major Ashleigh Byrer, who had to purchase instructor John Barrick’s book. “In my case, using the book specifically written for the course and not a generic physics textbook was definitely worth it.”

Professors who choose to write their own textbooks and provide them through the campus bookstore are indeed receiving royalties to do so — but some, such as Clark, work to give back to the community.

“Writing a book solved the textbook problem, but created an ethical issue for me. I felt uncomfortable requiring students to buy a book that I received royalties (on),” Clark said, “So I set up a scholarship fund through (the College of Education, Health and Human Services). All royalties from the sale of my book to my students goes directly into the C & G Clark Travel Scholarship.

Clark said that thus far, one student has benefited from the scholarship and was able to do her student teaching in New Zealand. “I also put $100 from each paycheck in the fund,” she said.

In the end, the books that are written are university and subject specific — the draw for most professors who decide to become authors.

“The attraction for me, as probably for most faculty who do this … is that I have material that I want my students to learn presented in a way that I think is most helpful to my students to learn it. I could care less about getting royalties from it,” Williams said.

Cameron Gorman is a senior reporter, contact her at [email protected].