New textbook policy stops profs collecting royalties

U faculty and administrators decided to prohibit employees from receiving royalties on their own books assigned in class, in response to an incident when a biology professor benefited financially from using his own textbook.

“There had been some concerns raised by the office of legal counsel about whether taking royalties from books that you have the authority to assign… violates the Utah Public Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act,” said Bill Lockhart, a U law professor and chairman of the Academic Policy Advisory Committee.

Some members of the Academic Senate expressed concerns that this policy change was another layer of bureaucratic governance over faculty.

“It sows the seeds of mistrust,” said Peggy Battin, a philosophy professor. “The message the policy sends is that we can’t trust you.”

Battin said the policy change could discourage professors from writing and using their own textbook in class.

The U asked the committee to investigate whether there needs to be a policy to govern the financial benefits faculty members gain from selecting their own course books. The committee reviewed other universities’ policies regarding this issue and discussed whether the U was in need of a policy change.

The committee proposed a policy change that would prohibit teachers from receiving royalties on their own books assigned in class. Although teachers are still allowed to use any text they choose in class, royalties received from their own books must be donated to a charity or other organization.

The policy, which is an amendment to the Faculty Code of Rights and Responsibilities was passed by the Board of Trustees on May 11.

The policy change was brought to the Academic Senate the previous week and was approved after an intense debate, Lockhart said.

“It passed by a margin of four or five votes,” he said.

Paul Mogren, newly appointed president of the Academic Senate, said teachers can choose any book they want, but the change would be a good idea “to keep everyone aboveboard.”

“We don’t want students thinking the reason they have to buy a textbook is so the teacher gains,” Mogren said.

Battin said the policy would instead create a wedge between students and professors.

“In a sense we do profit from students because faculty salary partly comes from tuition, but this policy implies that students and faculty have goals different than educating students,” she said.

Some U professors said they understand the concern and produce their course materials with no personal gain to avoid conflict. For example, biology professor Dave Gard gives a file of lecture notes to the biology student advisory committee, which prepares and sells it in the form of a workbook to students for little profit. The committee uses the profits for a book scholarship that directly goes to students, Gard said.

This is the first year Matt Potolsky, an English professor, has ever assigned his own text to students. He decided to offer the text on reserve for students who couldn’t afford to buy it.

“Professors do have a lot of power over their students, so any policy that assures students that they are not merely a marketing category is valuable,” he said. “The royalties most of us receive on our books are so small that the policy will make little practical difference one way or the other.”

Potolsky profits 10 percent on hardback editions and 7.5 percent on paperbacks of his book.

Battin said the money that comes from selling books is trifling.

“The idea that a professor would assign a book to make money is ridiculous,” she said. “If you think writing academic books is going to be a money maker, you’re wrong.”

Kelly Hughes, a biology professor, said she believes the price difference should be refunded to students to avoid any conflict of interest.

The committee has recommended teachers who choose to use their own textbooks in class conduct a survey to discover how many students bought a new edition of the book.

Students will be surveyed and the professor will calculate how much the royalties for that class would be and donate it to a charity, Mogren said.

“Professors sometimes only make 50 cents on every book sold,” he said. “In a class of 24 students, the professor will make $12-that’s a pretty small amount.”

The Board of Regents must approve the policy change before it is final.

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