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Textbooks offer slight financial boost to professors

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Photo by Emily Waller / Emily.Waller@Marquette.edu

If you ever had a professor who assigned his or her own book in class, don’t worry — they probably aren’t just padding your book bill for their own profit. In fact, odds are they aren’t making too much money off the book at all.

“Except for general textbooks that are sold to huge classes, no sane person would do it for the money,” said Gail Schumann, an adjunct professor in Marquette’s biology department.

Schumann is one Marquette professor who requires students to purchase a book written by her for mandatory reading in the class.

Although she did not go into specifics, Schumann said she gets a “very little, though a typical, amount” of money for each book sold.

One book publisher, Cader Books, grants authors a 6 to 8 percent royalty on soft cover books and a 10 to 15 percent royalty on hardcover books. Royalties earned on book sales vary based on the publishing company and by the book.

With textbook prices rising around the country and some Marquette students purchasing up to $1,000 in textbooks in a semester, a few universities across the country decided to force faculty to donate royalties earned from assigning their own books.

This is the case at the University of Kansas and Iowa State University, where students argued they are a captive audience and professors should not be able to pad their pocketbooks by requiring classes to buy their books.

The Rev. Bryan Massingale, an associate professor of theology at Marquette, said he thought twice before assigning his own book to one of his classes. Ultimately, Massingale said he went with his own book because he felt it was the best text available on the topic of racism and the Catholic Church.

“Most people think that you write books for the money,” Massingale said in an e-mail. “Yet most academic publishing pays very little, and sometimes nothing at all.”

BookMarq Manager David Konkol said of the 3,200 required texts stocked this semester, less than 2 percent were written by Marquette professors. That means less than 60 books written by Marquette faculty are currently owned by students.

Robert Masson, an associate professor of theology, also requires students to read his own text in classes, but offers the book online rather than adding an extra cost to students at the beginning of each semester.

“There isn’t much money in academic publishing — at least not in my field,” Masson said in an e-mail. “That is not the motivation for most academic publication. That is also … why I put the book online.”

Kevin O’Brien, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said he doesn’t mind having a professor assign his or her own books to a class because “it makes them seem more interested and involved in the subject they teach.”

Regardless of whether it is right or wrong for professors to require their own books, each professor agreed that writing a book is no small task and requires extensive research.

“It takes an amazing amount of time, energy and passion to write a book,” Massingale said in an e-mail. “(It can take) several months, and sometimes years. It literally takes over your life.”

Schumann agreed with that assessment, adding, “Students should appreciate that many hours of work go into the writing and review of a textbook, whether it is online or printed on paper. Many of us do this to enhance the learning of our students.”

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