Academic Ethics

 Integrity in Textbook Selection

Prepared by Philip A. Pecorino, Ph.D.

Professor, Philosophy

The issue is that of faculty requiring the purchase of their own textbooks by their own students or by all students taking a course.  By practice, policies and statutes the accrual of financial gain through the requirement of book purchases by their authors of their own students is being prohibited.  Instead those revenues so derived are being required to be refused or redirected in some way as to benefit others, primarily students.

One of the difficulties in dealing with this issue and even thinking about this issue is that there are so few faculty who consider themselves as professional educators and subject to the encumbrances of the profession of education held as second to the profession of their academic discipline. Faculty of colleges and universities are members of the profession of education (1) and as such they have professional responsibilities and obligations and there are standards of behavior set by colleagues for members.  The American Association of University Professors has asserted that faculty members should avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students (2) . The AAUP also has a report "On Professors Assigning Their Own Texts to Students " 

...policies seek to ensure that course-assignment decisions are not compromised by even the appearance of impropriety. In the implementation of these policies, however, it is equally necessary to ensure that procedures followed by colleges and universities to protect students do not impair the freedom of faculty members or their flexibility of choice in deciding what materials to assign their students. Professors, individually and collectively, have the primary responsibility for the teaching done at their institutions. Accordingly, their voice on matters having to do with the selection of course materials should be determinative. (3).

The basic idea is that due to unavoidable conflict of interest considerations and the fundamental fiduciary obligation of professional educators to casue no harm to their students faculty who believe that their own textbooks are the most suited for their students should not accept or redirect the royalties ensuing by the required purchase of the textbooks by their students so that they will not accrue a financial benefit from those they teach.

In public universities, such as CUNY, there are often state laws that prohibit the use of office as means for financial gain and often faculty of public universities are included in such statutes.  Connecticut and Washington are but two of an increasing number that have such explicit statutes(4). See also New Jersey, " A State official acting in a scholarly capacity may require the use of his or her own published work in a course that he or she teaches. However, monies resulting from such use must be donated to the college or university or other nonprofit institution." State Ethics Commission Rules 39 N.J.R. 4951(a)

Public Colleges and Universities have enacted their own policies on the matter (5).  Outside of public institutions there are also concerns in private colleges that should lead to a prohibition based on ethical principles.(6)   There has been a survey on ethics of textbook authors and  this issue was included: "Continuing to assign a textbook you have written when you know stronger books are available " (7).

Faculty have a right to select their own textbook for use in the absence of some faculty based decision that prohibits or constrains that choice. Based on court cases concerning academic freedom it is for academic institutions and for their faculty to determine "who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study" (8).  This would clearly include decisions on selection of curricular materials (9). A strong case can be made that the choice of textbook is up to the academic department acting as a whole, a department committee in the discipline empowered by the department to make the choice, a course director so empowered, or the individual instructor, in the absence of the action of the higher authority.  In no case is the decision the prerogative of those other than faculty or of department chairpersons against the judgment of faculty. 

But here where the issue is possible conflict or interest and personal financial benefit from faculty requiring the purchase of their own textbooks by their own students or by all students taking a course, in such situations faculty are best advised that their professional obligations as educators require that they not derive financial benefit from the purchases required of their students.  Revenues so derived ought to be redirected.

See further: a study  Contemporary Ethics in Relation to Academics and the Use of a Professor's Own Text or Fellow Faculty Member's Text as a Course Requirement. by Fay, Jack R.and Stryker, Judson P. at ERIC (March, 1992

Since the passage of Federal Law on Textbooks (2008) many states are enacting legislation that will encourage efforts to contain costs and this includes faculty authored texts.  Many state laws will have provisions regulating the conflict of interest inherent in faculty requiring the use of their own texts, e.g., see the New Jersey Regulation  State Ethics Commission Rules 39 N.J.R. 4951(a)  and the  New York State Law 2008

For educators to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to help and not to harm those whom they serve they need to be removed from conflicts in interests in reaching decisions as to how they are to serve their students. Where professionals are slow or reluctant or refuse to act the society that enfranchises them will act. This is occurring already with federal and state laws in the USA.

1. The academic institution should have a policy or statement on Academic Ethics that covers conflicts in interests in the selection of textbooks

2. the department should have a policy for textbook selection determined by the faculty after informed discussions and due deliberations on whether or not to have a common textbook, exams etc... for multiple sections of a course.

3. Where there is a policy for a common textbook then there should be a process in place for the selection of that textbook.

a)To protect colleagues from the pressure of a colleague authoring a textbook nominated for consideration the process of final determination should provide for a method to insure the anonymity of the department faculty participating in that final decision.

b) A department policy and process might recuse department faculty who are themselves authors of textbooks that are candidates for adoption consideration.

4. If a faculty member is author of a textbook nominated for consideration for adoption then there should be in place an institution-wide or department-wide policy that faculty set aside that portion of the royalties from the sale of their textbooks to their own students (or to those in the department) and direct those sums to some student support purpose such as a scholarship or academic awards.



1. Kincaid, Shannon and  Pecorino, Philip, Education as a Profession  as chapter II in The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation

2. AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics, see

3. AAUP Report "On Professors Assigning Their Own Texts to Students " at

4. The Connecticut State University System
Concerning the Assigning of Faculty Authorized Textbooks To Students Taught by Same Faculty

 Washington State University
Ethics Policy regarding the use of faculty-authored textbooks

5.  University of Akron:  No University employee is to receive private gain arising from the sale of textbooks or other materials used in a course in which the employee is an instructor...the employee must arrange either to (a) waive royalties or other type of personal gain or (b) designate the University or a recognized professional organization or honorary to receive such royalties or gain. The latter option must ensure that there will be no potential for future personal gain by the employee from this classroom use. All proposed plans are to be submitted to the University for prior approval through the Department Chair.

University of Missouri:  Textbooks, tapes, software and other materials authored by the course instructor may be assigned to be purchased by students for a course taught by the author if the royalties arising from the purchase of the assigned materials are returned to the University of Missouri, another educational institution, a charitable organization, or a not-for-profit foundation...

Northern Illinois University:  University employees shall not retain royalties or derive other financial benefit from textbooks, tapes, software, and other materials used in courses taught by them or by others reporting to or influenced by them, or in courses for which they were involved in selecting those materials. Such royalties or other financial benefits shall not serve the employee's personal benefit but should be made available for the benefit of the university.

University of Wisconsin Madison

An apparent conflict of interest may be present when textbooks and other educational materials produced by an instructor are required for a class that instructor teaches, and where the sale of such materials produces financial gain for the instructor. The instructor and the department are therefore encouraged to consider the following:

  1. It is not in the best interest of students to prohibit instructors from assigning textbooks they have written, given that such materials may be the best materials available.
  2. As with other course-level academic issues (e.g., establishing student learning goals, determining course content and structure, identifying individual course contributions to the department’s curriculum), selection of instructional materials are properly determined by the instructor and department sponsoring the course.
  3. Instructors can employ a number of strategies to mitigate the apparent conflict of interest when they assign materials from which they may receive financial gain:
    • Confer with the department (e.g., curriculum committee or similar body) to establish that these materials are, indeed, the best (if not only) materials available to students.
    • Accommodate students who choose not to purchase the materials by placing copies on reserve in the library or in the Electronic Reserve system. (Information about the course reserve system can be found online at
    • Avoid personal financial gain by donating royalties (e.g, to the UW Foundation or to another charitable organization). Some instructors have been known simply to reimburse students who provide proof of purchase.
    • Disclose this issue (and efforts to address it) to students.
  1. Given the variety of situations under which instructional materials are created, published, and ultimately assigned, one or more of the above strategies may be appropriate and may be pursued at the individual’s discretion.              

6. Christopher Newport University : Senate Resolution on Establishment of Campus Policy on Self-Assigned Textbooks  by Gary Green (Dept. of Government and Public Affairs)…. , it is morally imperative that we at CNU create safeguards against exploiting our positions in the classrooms. ..the necessity for a self-imposed structure to prevent the exploitation of others.  They spring from the realization that professionals have a duty to do what is in the best interests of those they serve, and that their judgment can not be compromised by the lure of extra rewards of personal gain, be it financial gain or some other benefit that occurs by virtue of their decisions. .. . If such a policy were to be generated from the faculty ourselves, we would be sending a message to our students that we are aware of our responsibility to identify conflicts of interest in our professional lives.  That example will have great impact on our students, and will empower them to be cognizant of such conflicts after they leave CNU.  ... I am, however, asking the faculty Senate to adopt a policy that forbids for-profit self-referral of classroom materials.  To continue to ignore this long-recognized inherent academic conflict of interest would make an embarrassing statement about the principles and ethics of us all.


8. In 1957 Sweezey v New Hampshire the US Supreme Court with Justice Earl Warren writing for the court sets out that Academic Freedom is a First Amendment right of an individual member of a faculty to some form of Academic Freedom.     In Sweezey Justice Felix Frankfurter set out the component of academic freedom for institutions and individuals as relating to the needed autonomy of the institution from outside intrusion, particularly from government.  Justice Frankfurter noted a statement from South Africa that identified “the four essential freedoms of a university to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”   This established the sphere in which Individual and Institutional Academic Freedom operates.   Many see this decision as clearly establishing that academic freedom exists for institutions. It might also be interpreted as indicating that academic freedom exists as shared by universities, professors and students, thus leaving at issue what happens should there be a conflict amongst those three as has often occurred and typifies the conflict in most cases finding there way to the courts since 1970. 

9..Donna Euben, AAUP Counsel,  Legal Issues In The Classroom    June 4, 2003

Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania: Dilawar M. Edwards, a tenured professor in media studies, sued the administration for violating his right to free speech by restricting his choice of classroom materials in an educational media course. The classroom materials emphasized the issues of "bias, censorship, religion and humanism." The department had voted to use an earlier version of the syllabus for the introductory course. Thus, Edwards was teaching from a non-approved syllabus. The court declined to review the case under the standard of whether the professor's course content was "reasonably related to a legitimate educational interest" because "a public university professor does not have a First Amendment right to decide what will be taught in the classroom." The fact that Edwards' departmental colleagues approved a syllabus that Edwards declined to use seems to have contributed to the court's deference to the academic decision of the institution. Poskanzer, THE FACULTY at 89 (observing that "at some level the decision reflects deference to (collective) academic judgment," but that such "a consensus is always easier to obtain in opposition to unpopular or unconventional ideas"). 156 F.3d 488 (3rd Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1143 (1999).

last updated  April , 2009