V.11 INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS
This section considers two of many types of materials instructors may employ to teach their students: self-authored instructional materials, and photo-copied handouts.
Considerations on the Use of Teaching Materials Authored by Instructors
Occasionally, questions are raised regarding whether it is proper for instructors to assign self-authored texts to their students. This matter has attracted considerable discussion within higher education, to the extent that the American Association of University Professors has issued a statement on the topic:
The American Association of University Professors has
adopted a statement "“On Professors Assigning Their Own Works
to Students." ”That statement reads, in full:
Professors have long assigned to their students works of which they were the author. The practice ranges from assigning commercially published textbooks they have written to having students buy a volume they have written and published or course packs made up of their own materials they have photocopied. Not only individual professors, but also academic departments and programs, sometimes prepare instructional materials, such as laboratory manuals, that are sold to students. Some professors place their works on electronic reserve, making them freely available to students.
None of these practices is by itself cause for concern. The right of individual professors to select their own instructional materials, a right protected under principles of academic freedom, should be limited only by such considerations as quality, cost, availability, and the need for coordination with other instructors or courses. Professors should assign readings that best meet the instructional goals of their courses, and they may well conclude that what they themselves have written on a subject best realizes that purpose. In some cases, indeed, students enroll in courses because of what they know about the professor from his or her writings, and because they hope to engage in discussion with the professor about those writings in the classroom. Because professors are encouraged to publish the results of their research, they should certainly be free to require their own students to read what they have written.
At the same time, however, students in a classroom can be a captive audience if they must purchase an assigned text that is not available either on library reserve or on a restricted Web site. Because professors sometimes realize profits from sales to their students (although, more often than not, the profits are trivial or nonexistent), professors may seem to be inappropriately enriching themselves at the expense of their students. To guard against this possibility, some colleges and universities have adopted policies meant to regulate the assignment of a professor's own works. NOTE #1
At Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University , materials written by faculty members and intended for purchase by students may not be assigned unless their use is first approved by the appropriate departmental, collegiate, and university-level committees. Faculty members at the University of Minnesota cannot "personally profit from the assignment of materials" to students without authorization of the department chair. At Southern Utah University, a department chair and dean must approve the assignment of faculty-authored materials. Approval by a faculty committee is required at Cleveland State University . Faculty at North Dakota State University and the University of North Texas can assign their own works but are cautioned against retaining profits earned from sales to their students unless, as the North Dakota policy states, "the text has become independently accepted in the field."
A variant of these policies requires professors to choose between contributing to a scholarship or library fund whatever profits are realized from the sale of materials to their own students, or having the materials reviewed by a department committee or chair. Another variant, perhaps unique, is the policy of the Department of Neurology at Case Western Reserve University . Students in the residency program are given faculty-authored textbooks free of charge.
Learned societies and professional organizations have likewise adopted policies to prevent professors from taking advantage of their students. The American Political Science Association, in its code of professional ethics, states that "teachers have an ethical obligation to choose materials for student use without respect to personal or collective gain." The American Sociological Association takes the same position: "sociologists make decisions concerning textbooks, course content, course requirements, and grading solely on the basis of educational criteria without regard to financial or other incentives." The AAUP, in its Statement on Professional Ethics [http://www.aaup.org/statements/Redbook/Rbethics.htm], has also addressed this matter, albeit indirectly. The statement calls upon faculty members to "avoid any exploitation" of students, from which it follows that professors should not take advantage of students by the authority inherent in the instructional role. NOTE #2
None of these policies bars faculty members from assigning their own works to students. Rather, the 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.
1. State conflict-of-interest laws that bar state employees from acting officially on matters in which they have a financial stake may also be relevant for professors at state institutions.
2. Policy and Documents and Reports, 9th ed. ( Washington , D.C. : AAUP, 2001), 133-34.
(accessed August 18, 2008)
It is our perspective that among the many advantages to students who attend UW-Madison is that they learn from scholars who teach: the people who create, integrate, and apply new knowledge also share that knowledge—often immediately—with students. And, in turn, UW-Madison instructors learn from students in their classrooms how best to present new knowledge to students. This dynamic interaction between research and teaching is one reason that among the many publications of UW-Madison authors are found an array of textbooks and teaching materials, which not only serve UW-Madison students, but which also extend the university’s reach to students beyond the boundaries of UW-Madison classrooms, and well beyond the boundaries of the state.
Instructors would not invest the time, attention, and effort to create
instructional materials if they believed they could not improve upon works
already in existence. Furthermore, some of the materials produced by faculty
and staff of UW-Madison may well be the only comprehensive materials
available in a particular field. While these works are surely produced
as a result of an instructor's dedication, it is also reasonable for these
authors to expect compensation for their efforts.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 http://www.library.wisc.edu/reserves/#faculty.)
- 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.
- 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
When in doubt, instructors and departments should feel free to consult their associate dean.
This area is of major concern because of changes in the copyright
law of 1983, subsequent court cases, and the impact of the Board of Regents
policies regarding the copying and distribution of handouts to students
in lieu of texts or as a part of course instructional materials. Instructors
who copy materials for handouts to students in their courses may unwittingly
run afoul of the Regent policies or, worse, subject themselves and the
University to liability for copyright infringement. (We have been notified
by UW System Legal Services that the Kinko's copying decision, Spring,
1991, has no application to the in-house copying of instructional
materials for classroom use following our guidelines and procedures.)
Briefly, Regent policies intend that all required costs of instruction
be covered with tuition and fees; these covered costs include typical
duplicated instructional handout materials. If more extensive handouts
or course packets are desirable, students must have the option of buying
them or not (at least one copy or more, depending on the size of the class,
must be placed on reserve), and only the costs of preparing and copying
the handouts may be passed on to the students. The copyright law states
that appropriate permissions must be obtained, but the law permits limited
copying of copyrighted materials for academic purposes, under the "fair
use" doctrine. The campus Office of Administrative Legal Services distributed
two memos on the subject (dated March, 1983 and August, 1991). They inform
deans, directors and department chairs that it believes instructional
staff members will be in compliance with the law when copying of copyrighted
materials is done within the following guidelines:
- The materials are not used repeatedly; that is, you have not used
them in preceding classes and you do not intend to use them in subsequent
classes (semester by semester);
- No more than one copy is made for each student;
- The notice of copyright is included on the first page of each copy
- The students are not assessed a fee beyond the actual cost of reproduction,
and upon payment the copy becomes the property of the student; and
- In the case of longer materials and books, the portion copied is selective
and sparing in comparison to the whole work.
Our procedure is for the instructor to submit his or her request for
copying by e-mail or memo indicating the copy center to be used, the course
number, likely number of students, and the list of titles, with page numbers,
to Brian Bubenzer ,
Rm. 307D South Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org). Brian will review the request and e-mail approval
to the instructor and the copy center as authorization to make copies.
Updated October 23, 2007