Professor Attempts to Save Students Money and Gets Punished

November 2nd 2015

A southern California professor is in hot water with his department after he refused to assign a $180 textbook to his students, and the case it gaining attention for an important reason.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Alain Bourget a California State University, Fullerton associate professor of mathematics, decided to forgo using the mandated textbook to teach an introductory linear algebra and differential equations course, as a way to cut costs for students without losing academic value.

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Instead, Bourget provided access to free online materials and a much less expensive textbook ($75).

"Our students aren't rich," Bourget said. "And we have a responsibility to look for inexpensive materials."


Regardless, the university reprimanded Bourget for not using the department-issued textbook designed for Bourget's course section. In a statement by CSUF the university emphasized the importance of using the required textbook and explained that deviating from it would put students at risk of failing to meet the department's learning objectives.

Since then, Bourget has appeared before a CSUF faculty grievance committee to appeal the university's decision to reprimand him for what he feels is a matter of academic freedom, Slate reports.

Although a local issue, the case is sparking conversation about the price of university textbooks and alternative educational resources.

Nicole Allen, the director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is a primary advocate for free online course materials and advises colleges to seek more modern ways to provide materials to students.

"This case is just one manifestation in a broader trend of academe that the marketplace evolves faster than campus practices. Ten years ago long term departmental options considered good for affordability since it allows for a strong local-used book market to develop. Now it can work against students by perpetuating the traditional publishing industry stronghold on the market, which keeps new innovations like OER [open educational resources] out."

And that traditional market is costing students a fortune. In a Q&A with ATTN:, Ethan Senack, federal Higher Education Advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, explained that textbook prices have increased "more than 800 percent in price over the last three decades." Senack explained that only five publishers have control on the market, driving up prices, and it is the publishers who are making a profit.

"According to the National Association of College Stores, more than 77 cents of every dollar spent on textbooks go to publishers. Of those 77 cents, the publishing company makes about 18 cents in pure profit, while spending 15 cents on marketing, and roughly 32 percent to cover costs (paper, printing, employee salaries, etc). At the same time, the author—the person who dedicated hundreds of hours of research to write the book—only gets about 12 cents on the dollar on average."

The U.S Public Interest Research Group found that the average student spends upwards of $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies, which is equivalent to 39 percent of the tuition and fees at community college, U.S. News reports.

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In order for colleges to move away from traditional department resources and textbooks there might have to be a change in policy, Allen says.

Besides textbooks, students are already suffering under the financial strain of putting themselves through college. According to a poll by the Huffington Post, 62 percent of Americans say that they cannot afford to pay for college.


Alain Bourget's case is still ongoing.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated that Nicole Allen is director of open education at the Scholarly Funding and Academic Resources Coalition. This is incorrect. She is the director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

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