You may have seen a widely circulated story out of CSU, Fullerton recently. A tenured mathematics professor was officially reprimanded for deviation from the approved $180 textbook for a course, a textbook that is co-authored by his department chair. This provocative story exists at the intersection of at least two controversies in higher education with a direct impact on you in the classroom.
- Textbook cost. It is news to no one in higher education that textbooks are expensive. This is especially true for students pursuing STEM degrees. In addition to tuition a typical student spends $1200 on textbooks and supplies each year. As teachers, we often feel powerless to do very much about this as prices are set by companies in far off places who mainly care about bottom lines. There is help! The CSU Chancellor’s Office has provided funding and support for faculty to pursue decreased cost resources for students through the Textbook Alternatives Project (TAP). TAP is an investment in lowering student costs and something to consider whether you teach Chemistry or Kinesiology. The math is staggering. If you teach a class of 50 and the average materials cost is a modest $75 per student, taking the cost down to $25 you will save students $25,000 over the course of five years. I used to coordinate the public speaking course in which I worked with a team to reduce costs from $100 to $0 per student saving students $100,000 every year, it takes work, but it is possible.
- Curriculum Control. The professor at Fullerton was under scrutiny because the textbook was mandated by the department. You may be wondering, who controls curriculum at Chico and how does it interact with academic freedom? The answer is not as straight forward as you might think. If you teach in General Education part of your class responds to Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes agreed upon by departments and the University. If you teach major classes the content may be partially driven by accrediting agencies or department standards. Regardless, your department chair or program coordinator is a good place to start if you want to be sure you are teaching the required content and see what kind of flexibility you have.
You want to use a different textbook? It is probably your call. You want to replace your exams with quizzes and activities? It is probably your call. You want to replace your American Government curriculum with differential equations and swing dancing? Interesting, but you might want to check with your chair.