On Campus

So what if professors assign their own textbooks?

Should professors also have someone else prepare their lecture notes?

The Globe and Mail is in a huff over the shocking fact that professors write textbooks and then assign those textbooks to their students:

The idea of professors assigning their own books presents an ethical dilemma. Students may feel uncomfortable questioning the material, and there is arguably a conflict of interest in profiting from one’s own syllabus.

What precisely is the “ethical dilemma” and why is there a “conflict of interest”? Professors profit from teaching classes, that is they are paid to share their expertise with students. Is that morally suspect? Why is earning an income from compiling one’s expertise into a book different? Professors design course content — within accepted academic practice of course — and present it to their students as authorities on the subject.  If, as the Globe suggests, there is a “power dynamic involved,” certainly such a dynamic is already in place the second a professor steps in front of a classroom, regardless of what textbook they assign.

Presumably if a professor writes a book, that means it is inline with the way he/she plans to teach the course. Why would it be desirable for them to use a book that might not fit the way the subject matter is planned? The Globe does allow that “there’s something to be said for having a professor who knows the course material inside out.” But the bulk of the Globe story winces at the notion that (shudder) students might feel uncomfortable having to read what their professor has written.What if they disagree with it? Well, I might ask, what if they disagree with what the professor says in a lecture? Should lecture notes also be prepared by someone other than the the person teaching the course?

If students are discouraged from asking questions, or critiquing course material, that says more about the competence of the professor (or the students) than it does about who wrote the the textbook.

Related: Conflict of interest and textbooks