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Vice President’s Message

Steven Barkan
Steven Barkan, TAA Vice President

The student newspaper at the University of Illinois, The Daily Illini, recently ran a story on an issue that I’ve thought about ever since I started writing textbooks twenty years ago. This issue is whether professors who use their own textbook for their classes should keep the royalties they make when their students purchase the book.

The Daily Illini article interviewed two professors/textbook authors who “both said they have no problem with professors who use books that they get royalties from” because the amount of money is so low. One of these authors also said he no longer uses his own textbooks in his classes because “there was too much overlap between what the students were reading and what they were hearing in class.” That raises a pedagogical issue, but let’s return to the financial one.

The financial issue is this: regardless of how much money a professor makes from using her/his own textbook (and that money can be considerable in a large class if the author’s royalty is at least $15-$20 per copy from an expensive textbook), is it a conflict of interest for the professor to use the textbook, even if the professor honestly feels it’s the best textbook for the class?

When I started using my own textbooks in my courses, I resolved this possible conflict for myself by donating any royalties generated by my students purchasing the book in my university bookstore to my academic department’s student gift fund. This fund is used to support student travel and to finance annual awards given to our best students. I made this decision so that students would not feel I was using my book partly or solely to make some money, and because I did not feel comfortable in keeping any of these royalties. This was a decision I made for myself, and I certainly do not question the motives of textbook authors who keep their royalties in the same circumstance.

Whether or not you are a textbook author, what do you think about the issue of using one’s textbook in one’s own course?  Is it okay to keep any royalties, or is it a conflict of interest? To return to the pedagogical issue, does it generate too much overlap between what is said in class and what is in the book, or does the book prove to be a nice complement to what is said in class? Let the comments begin!

Steven Barkan, Ph.D.