Professors can assign their own textbooks, but not for long


Textbooks stacked in the bookstore

The Faculty Senate plans to unveil a new policy this year that will prevent faculty from assigning their own books as required textbooks for their classes.

The Faculty Senate — a group of faculty representatives that addresses concerns brought to their attention by the Trinity faculty — is currently in the beginning stages of the policy change. They will work to clarify the conflict of interest policy from the faculty handbook so that the verbiage will apply more directly to assigned textbooks.

The process to complete this policy is lengthy. First, the senate will hold fora to solicit feedback from faculty members regarding their proposal. After they collect feedback, they will revise the proposal and bring it back to a forum until faculty members are satisfied.

Corinne Pache, Faculty Senate member and professor of classical studies, described the long process and need for feedback.

“Anytime that the senate considers a proposal for anything, we organize these fora so that faculty can get the information and discussion. We get a lot of feedback, and depending on the reaction, we might do different things. If it runs through the whole process and the faculty assembly approved it, then it would become part of the handbook. It would start in the following year probably,” Pache said.

Michael Hughes, instruction librarian and former Faculty Senate member, brought this issue to the faculty senate’s attention. After seeing news stories about other universities firing professors for requiring students to buy their textbooks, Hughes realized Trinity needed to address the issues before a similar incident arose.

Without this policy, Hughes emphasized that there would never be clarity as to the quality of the book and intent of the professor.

“We want to protect students from any possibility that this could happen. Even if it’s an honest appeal from the professor, it doesn’t look good. There’s always going to be questions. If I’m a student in that class, I’m always going to be wondering, ‘Does it have to be this book, and how much money did you make off of it?’ ” Hughes said.

Although this is a concern, Brian Miceli — Faculty Senate member and professor of mathematics — emphasized that professors will normally not make much money off of the textbook purchases.

“Moreover, faculty see astonishingly small financial gains from textbook sales, and indeed, if a student purchases a new $150 textbook from the bookstore, it’s likely that the author of that textbook sees about $10 from that; if a student purchases a used textbook from, then the faculty member gets $0 from that sale,” Miceli said.

Pache agrees that the appearance can raise concerns, and the Faculty Senate wants to protect the faculty as well.

“It’s just good policy that people should not be put in a position where there’s no appearance of their motivation being self-interest, and there is a policy for research where you have to declare any profit that you make from research, and you cannot make money out of it. So the idea is to do the same thing for teaching,” Pache said.

When creating the policy, the Faculty Senate will look at current policies on campus that describe conflict of interests. They will also consider other universities’ conflict of interest policies.

“One of the basic things that we do when we’re drafting the policy is we look for predecessors and models in which to base language or to give people a sense of the options they might have in choosing a policy that would be appropriate for this institution,” Hughes said.

Additionally, the senate hopes to include a clause that would allow professor to use their textbooks only after going through a process to prove their textbook is the best for the class.

“I don’t know what the policy will look like. It could take different forms, but the goal would be to make it possible for professors to assign their books,” Pache said.