OPINION: Professors who require books they wrote hurt the academic experience

Tom Baker 

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     Without a doubt, my least favorite part of college is buying course books. While already spending thousands of dollars on tuition, it’s another burden to make sure I save enough for the hundreds of dollars I’ll spend a year on books; books I will most likely not open again after the class. I feel a special kind of annoyance when the class professor forces me to buy a book they wrote.   

     While the ethics of requiring students to buy professors’ books is debatable, professors who do this will end up hurting the student’s experience by limiting the availability of knowledge on the subject.       

     I don’t wish to degrade the effort or the years — sometimes decades — of research necessary to acquire the knowledge to write a college textbook. But what do you do when your professor writes their book unclearly, and the lectures simply repeat what’s in the textbook? This confusion eventually leads to looking for other resources to explain the material further, even prioritizing another source over the required text.     

     In my case this semester, I paid $80 for a book written by the professor of the class. The book has 11 chapters, and the class only covers four of the chapters. The subject matter is difficult to understand, and typically I rely on the professor directly to further explain the text if I have issues.    

     My struggle arises when the hour-long lectures accompanying the text repeat the material from the text and use the same examples listed. It doesn’t create any space for further explanation or understanding. I want to note that my complaint is levied mostly at the humanities and social sciences.   

     I don’t believe that students should be used as a guaranteed sale for a book when we are already paying an ungodly amount for everything that goes into a college degree. Students already pay to hear the professor’s point of view for an entire semester, so please don’t make us pay more to read that same opinion. 

     I know there are good reasons why professors assign their books. Since the professor is an expert in the field, they would be able to structure their course to mirror the text and further expand on the knowledge offered in their text with in-class lectures.   

     I have also heard of professors who offer the text for a lower price than other texts, saving the students money. Others donate the profits to student services instead of enriching themselves, which I find incredibly honorable.    

     The issue is not that professors are marketing their work or taking advantage of their class by forcing students to pay them for their work. Instead, the problem is about expanding the availability of knowledge for students. 

     A term relevant to this concern is “Lockharting,” in reference to the egomaniacal professor Gilderoy Lockhart from the second “Harry Potter” installment.   

     While I don’t wish to put all professors who sell their work to their students in the same boat as that fraud of a character, the term Lockharting paints a picture of the kind of person who believes they have all the knowledge students require and that students wouldn’t benefit from learning from a different point of view.    

     When I buy a textbook, I hope that it will supplement the material the professor covers, not simply restate it in text form. If the professor wrote the book, they already have all the knowledge found in those pages. Since class time is limited, wouldn’t professors want their students to have as much of a variety of sources as possible to increase the exposure for the student?     

     Again, I don’t want to paint professors who market their books to students as egotistical, profiteering bad guys. Instead, I hope to challenge professors to do what they signed up for: Give students the best education their money can buy.