For most college professors, money made from own textbooks provides little
Bruce Levine was taken aback.
The award-winning history professor and author of five books assigned his students at the University of Cincinnati to buy his book “Half Slave & Half Free: The Roots of Civil War.”
When one of his students objected that he was taking advantage of the class, Levine, who was making 10 cents a copy for the 30 copies in the class, couldn’t believe the student’s outrage.
In the last 10 years, textbook prices have risen by 57 percent and, with the rising prices, Levine and professors at George Mason University, University of Kansas and countless other institutions have been accused of profiting off of books.
Nationally, the American Association of University Professors addressed this problem in a 2004 report saying professors should be able to select the materials for their own courses.
“Professors should assign readings that best meet the instructional goals of their courses, and they may well conclude that what they themselves have written on a subject best realizes that purpose,” the report read.
The association takes a clear position on the profiteering of professors, telling them to “avoid any exploitation” of students.
University journalism professor Brant Houston uses “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook,” a book he co-authored, in his classes, but he gets none of the revenue for the book. The revenue goes to the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization, of which Houston served as executive director when he co-authored the fourth and fifth editions of the book.
Houston said he’s never had anyone accuse him of profiting off his book, but his syllabus states that he doesn’t profit from the book to stop any accusations.
“It’s a non-starter,” he said.
Houston and Levine both said they have no problem with professors who use books that they get royalties from.
“For the most part, no one is going to become a millionaire off of textbooks,” Houston said.
The National Association of College Stores collects information about how each textbook dollar is broken up. Overall, 77.5 percent of revenue goes back to publishers, and the rest goes to the bookstore. The association stopped further diving into the publishers’ revenue five years ago, but, in 2008, only 11.7 percent of revenue went back to the authors.
Melissa Peterson, a junior in AHS, said she has had two professors use textbooks that they wrote in their classes.
This semester, Peterson said she has to buy “Comunidades” by Ann Abbott for Spanish 232. The new book, which comes with a passcode to a website, costs $79. The code forces students to buy a new book for the class each semester, which many students feel is unfair.
“I wouldn’t say the professor is taking advantage (of students),” she said. “They don’t like how any other books explain a certain subject, so they create their own to explain in the best way possible.”
Peterson said she would prefer if professors put attachments of their work on Compass and other online sites, rather than requiring students to buy the text.
Now a professor at the University, Levine no longer uses books that he has written when teaching his classes, though it’s not because he was accused of profiting off the book.
“I want them to get access to the information through a variety of ways,” he said. “There was too much overlap between what the students were reading and what they were hearing in class.”
Levine, whose books are still used by professors elsewhere, said he noticed that some students got bored by the overlap and either stopped attending class or stopped doing the readings.
Levine can live without the money he made on the textbooks.
“I wasn’t eating too many lavish meals off that profit,” he said.
Johnathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @jhett93.
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