Associate professor Alain Bourget refused to assign his students the $180 textbook recommended by the department at the University of California at Fullerton because he found an alternative that cost half as much. Unfortunately, unlike the more expensive book, the alternative was not co-written by the mathematic department’s chair and vice chair.
Last year Bourget received a written warning for assigning a cheaper textbook than the department required. He insists the alternative was at least as good and that the department had no formal policy on the matter. Bourget will challenge the reprimand at a grievance hearing Friday.
Fullerton claims the book’s authors, Stephen W. Goode and Scott A. Annin, were not part of the decision to deny Bourget the alternative text, though they both hold the senior positions in the department.
Bourget insisted there were no clear rules requiring the text. The department claims it agreed to use the book since the first edition was published around 1989. The fracas has revealed one thing: twenty-five years of petty bickering within the mathematics department. In March of last year, the department formally voted to require the textbook.
Complicating the issue is that in 2013, the college adopted a Statement on the Freedom to Teach that provides faculty the right to select the course materials, theoretically assuring professors the right to choose the books they assign.
More than seventy other faculty at Fullerton have signed a letter insisting Bourget was in the right and appealing his reprimand. They fear the reprimand would set a dangerous precedent for academic freedom on campus.
Bourget’s decision to challenge the cost of textbooks is the exception. Professors aren’t buying the books, and often stand to profit from high textbook fees in a cycle of price inflation the Washington Post refers to as a racket.
Textbook prices have become a target of criticism in recent years. Despite the rapid increase in college tuition, textbook prices have risen faster.
Congress is currently considering a bill that would help limit textbook costs. The goal of the legislation is to establish grants to develop open resources without licensing fees.
As for Alain Bourget, the three member grievance panel has until November 6th to reach a decision.