The Main Stream

Aug 28, 2014 1:30 AM by Matthew Schwartz

N4T Investigators: Required Reading

Tucson - The U of A bookstore did big business this week as students returned to class. Does that mean more money for some professors?

Like many universities, the U of A policy allows professors to require students to buy the textbook he or she wrote, and profit from the sales. And many college textbooks are in the $150-$300 price range.

Sophomore nursing major Maddie Guziak says about buying the professor's book, "It's ridiculous, but you have to do it."

Another student, sophomore physiology major Alec Carr-Sheean, told us, "I think there is definitely a conflict of interest because I'm coming here to learn and if they're selling the textbook that they wrote, that means I'm only going to get their viewpoint on the topic, especially if it's something in terms of politics or something like that."

The practice of professors compelling students to buy their books has drawn some criticism nationwide. The New York Times ethicist wrote, "This should be avoided as much as humanly possible." The American Association of University Professors says, "Professors may seem to be inappropriately enriching themselves at the expense of their students." But at the same time, the group adds, "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."

Lynn Nadel has been teaching psychology at the U of A for 30 years and is the faculty chair, a liason between professors and the administration. Nadel says that out of 1500 UA professors, only about 1% require their students to buy their textbook. He says, "It's very rare, because in fact most people don't feel comfortable doing it. I don't feel comfortable doing it. I've been asked to write books."

Nadel said, "I can't guarantee that there isn't some professor going ‘ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching' with it, but typically it happens when it just is the case that that's the best book."

Despite the astronomical prices of many textbooks, educators say professors don't make big money off the sales of this type of book. The publisher and bookstore get most of the profits.

Nadel says, "In the universe of universities, there are stories about professors who made a lot of money on introductory textbooks. I don't know if we have any of those people at this university."

Nadel says the real problem is the cost of textbooks, and that regardless of who the author is, he or she is going to make some money. Nadel had a question for Wildcat students: "Would you feel better if the textbook you bought at the U of A made money for a professor at ASU?"

Remember, if you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at, or call 520-955-4444.


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