What are the ethical considerations if a student is forced to purchase professor’s textbooks? Should a professor assign his own textbook and make it required reading? Should a student who is already paying tuition – line a professor’s pockets with additional royalty income?
As a professor I have never asked my students to purchase textbooks I’ve authored. This is because I never turned the thousands of pages of technical material I have written over the years into a formal textbook. Rather than charge my students, I make these materials available to them free of charge. They are able to download them through an educational internet teaching system called Blackboard. This limits my student’s expense to the cost of printing the pages on a laser jet printer.
People who know I am a novelist and professor often joke or even ask if I require my students to purchase my novels. “You should make your students buy them,” they say. “It would be nice,” I answer, “but my novels are not directly correlated to the topics that I teach.” Do I have the nerve to tell my students that the least they could do is to buy my novels? After all I gave them my teaching materials for free? Would it be appropriate for me to insist that they purchase my books? How can I make such a request when they are already paying mega bucks for each credit hour.
If I was in the field of “English Literature” instead of “Accounting and Taxation,” I could maintain a sliver of legitimacy in making my books required reading. My goal is not to make money from my books, as much as it is wanting my student to know how good my books really are. I want to scream my message at the top of my lungs. I want my students to read them. Hell! I want everyone to read them!
Rest assured, I don’t sit idly by. I still attempt to hawk my novels. I’m not as bad as a carnival barker but there is some salesmanship involved. In a strong voice I ask them “how could you possibly resist these great works of art?”
At the end of the semester I send them an email stating that I enjoyed having them in my class and that their final grades are available on-line. In December, when I send out the email, I remind them one last time about my novels and suggest they would make great stocking-stuffers for the holidays. The email sent at the close of the spring semester, describes my books as being a great beach read. What a marketing campaign!
The only time I place any sort of pressure on them is when I first tell my classes about my books. I often ask for a show of hands of anyone who might have already read one of them. When only a few respond I give the rest an incredulous look and proclaim, “Why not the rest of you! They’re great!” I then inquire if there is anyone in the room who is taking a course from me for the second time. I look those students in the eye and state with a serious expression on my face that it is an absolute imperative that any repeat registrant MUST buy and read my novels. I would expect this as a courtesy to their professor. My plea usually gets a good laugh, although, I’m really not joking.
I’ve brought an expert to visit my blog and help shine some light on this matter. He is one of the world’s most renowned ethicists. I’m going to engage Dr. David Masterson a professor at Columbia University in a short interview. I’m wondering his take on this subject. Does he thinks the actions of college professors are unethical? Full disclosure requires me to inform you that Dr. Masterson is a fictional character from my second novel The Choosers (cover shown above). He is the creator of the famous “Masterson Hierarchy” and is a first-class scholar.
Cash: Welcome David. I’d like to speak to you today about ethics.
David: Hi Cash. Glad to meet the guy who created me from his imagination.
Cash: My pleasure. David.
David: When I first discovered the Masterson Hierarchy I stated that the number one postulate of ethical behavior is that whenever possible every attempt should be made to right a wrong.
Cash: Did you assign your own textbooks as required reading in your courses?
David: Of course I did. Anything else would have shortchanged my students.There is nothing unethical about having them read your own enlightened ideas. Why should they hear it from someone else if your have imparted knowledge about the subject matter in a clear and cogent fashion. If an educator believes their treatise does the best job of conveying that message then I’m all for it. However, if the work is shoddy and others have done better…then a professor is doing a grave disservice by force feeding his own substandard text on a defenseless student body.
Cash: Can you recommend a good book that my readers will find interesting?
David: I thought you’d never ask. I love all of your books but I’m partial to the one about the ethics professor who encounters an omnipotent group of decision makers from heaven.
Cash: That would be The Choosers.
David: That’s the one. Every day when people read this enthralling story, I get to jump off the written page and come to life. But this will only happen if a readers picks up your book. I wouldn’t want to give too much of the plot away for that would be unethical. However, I can tell you that the world’s future rests on my shoulders. The story you created transports the reader into the majestic reaches of heaven. Trust me when I tell you that this “life after death” stuff never gets boring.
Cash: Thanks David. And thank you to my readers for visiting my blog-post.
P.S. – Should a student be required to purchase a text written by their professor? Is a student essentially being asked to pay twice for the same course? I’d like to hear your thoughts and comments. [mc4wp-form]