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CSUF Professor Reprimanded For Choosing Non-Mandated Textbooks

This isn’t about a teacher trying to protest about how much textbooks or college costs these days. It’s more than that-it’s a professor trying to provide his students with the information necessary for them to learn the material in his course, Introduction to Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, at California State University, Fullerton.

Yet when Alain Bourget, a CSUF teacher for the past nine years, used two less expensive textbooks than the one mandated by the mathematics department chair, he was reprimanded by the university for his decision. The reprimand could include discipline as serious as dismissal. Some points to remember in this case:
  1. The book, Differential Equations and Linear Algebra, was written by Stephen W. Goode and Scott A. Annin, respectively the chair and vice chair of the university’s math department.
  2. Stephen W. Goode was the department chair who mandated the Goode-Annin textbook be used in Bourget’s course.
  3. This mandate was defended by Goode, who cited a decision made in a math department meeting in 1984.
  4. Bourget claims that the first edition of the Goode-Annin text was published in 1991, seven years after the math department meeting cited by Goode.
  5. The minutes of the 1984 meeting does mention that a textbook for the class was approved by the department, but does not mention the text title or author, nor how the department decides on a text requirement for a class.
This legal case highlights a few points about higher education that have recently come under the microscope of the public eye; namely academic freedom, the ethics of professors assigning their own texts, and soaring textbook prices. In his defense, Bourget speaks to what his students need that are not provided in the Goode-Annin book, such as practical examples. Many of his students are engineering majors, and practical examples are crucial for their understanding of the theories presented. The books chosen by Bourget are written by prominent mathematicians and widely used at other universities, and one costs just $76 and the other is free (compared to the Goode-Annin text’s price of $180). A few points we’d like to consider:
  1. If the Goode-Annin text they insist on using is over two decades old, is there not a case for reviewing more recent texts to ensure the students’ learning is up to date?
  2. Is the Goode-Annin text used by any other differential equation and linear algebra classes at other universities? If not, why not? If not, perhaps it’s not the best text?
  3. How is it ethical for the head of a department to require a text that pays him royalties?
  4. According to the American Association of University Professors, faculty members have the “freedom to teach,” which includes picking course materials, “without having their decisions subject to the veto of a department chair, dean, or other administrative officer.”
Bourget will be challenging his reprimand today, October 23rd 2015, at a grievance hearing. We will be watching to see what the outcome is. If you feel that you have been unfairly disciplined by your employer or dismissed from your employment, please call us at the Law Offices of Glew & Kim for a free case review. 714-713-4525