Students mixed on professors’ textbooks

With textbook prices soaring and digital filesharing becoming increasingly easy, some students are baffled as to why they are being asked to buy their professors’ own published works.

At a large university like USC, a substantial number of faculty members publish scholarly works and textbooks — and some of those professors require students to purchase their own textbooks for class.

This practice, however, has raised questions from students.

Aly Laux, a junior majoring in accounting and business administration, said her business administration class with Professor Merle Hopkins is easier because Hopkins wrote the textbook.

“It was easier to understand,” Laux said. “It’s nice to have the study guide in his own words describing the terms; I think he made it a really good introduction to a new topic.”

Hopkins, a professor of clinical accounting, said until about 10 years ago he produced a study guide for his business administration class as a supplement to the required textbook. He said he eventually found the study guide more beneficial than the text he had been using.

“What I became aware of was that the students were not buying the text — and if [they were] buying it, not using it,” Hopkins said. “Our old text was expensive … Me and my colleague agreed that we could

effectively teach the course with the guide.”

Hopkins declined to comment on the royalties he earns from his study guide.

Stephen Krach, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he feels that having his book written by his fluid dynamics professor, Dr. David Wilcox, is beneficial for his class.

“My lecture notes match up perfectly with the book. I feel like it’s easier to learn it. It’s easy to have my notes and my textbook match as opposed to having a book that doesn’t match,” Krach said.

While some students find the books make it easier to understand the material, others said they don’t see the value in purchasing a hardcover version of the information they could likely derive from lecture notes.

“In some ways it supports their expertise,” Laux said. “It can also be a kind of fuzzy situation. You are already paying for their thoughts with tuition, so why do you also need the book, that’s why I take notes.”

Raymond McDermott, manager of course materials for the USC Pertusati Bookstore, said such textbooks can be an added advantage for students because they know they will be using them through the course of the semester.

“In many ways, it’s beneficial,” McDermott said. “And you’re getting your money’s worth. The book was designed around that class.”

Beyond cost, some students also said they felt professors who used their own books in classes could be forcing a single point of view on students.

“I took a Thematic Option class where one of the professors required us to read one of his books,” said Gordon Roland, a junior majoring in business administration.

“I felt that in especially class discussion I shouldn’t say anything that was against what was in the book — it seems like

whenever anyone said anything against the book that the professor had some way to refute it,” Roland said.

Using a professor’s book can also limit students to the different resources they have to access the information, Laux said.

“Sometimes I think it’s beneficial to have an outside source,” she said. “If I didn’t understand something then I wouldn’t have an

outside source to look at. When a teacher writes a book, it will be explained in the same way it already was.”

1 reply
  1. Matt Cowan
    Matt Cowan says:

    There are two major problems with professors requiring that their own text books be used in class.

    First, it is tantamount to profiteering which no reasonable professor should be able to accept within their professional ethics.

    Second, and this is perhaps more dangerous but fortunately less frequent, these books are not necessarily subject to peer review. I am thinking primarily of the example from Prof. Wilcox who is particularly adamant about the validity of his text against other peer reviewed texts. While it is unlikely that the university would allow a textbook that professed outright lies as truth, there are a good many inaccuracies and omissions that could easily prove to be more damaging than an outright fabrication.

    The number of students who simply ignore the source of their lecturers’ information in favor of having a textbook that matches up exactly with their lectures is deeply concerning.

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