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Textbook Selection, Costs Subject of Campus Discussion

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Since 2007, it has been estimated that Cal State Fullerton students have saved over $20 million on course materials through programs at the CSUF bookstore, TitanShops.

With a textbook rental program that launched in 2005 — even before Amazon entered the textbook rental market — and digital course materials in 2006, the University has been a leader in helping students save money beyond the used textbook and student buy-back programs.

The cost of required books is one of the issues that has been raised in relation to a current personnel matter involving a Cal State Fullerton faculty member who is appealing a letter of reprimand issued to him for failing to use the textbook assigned for Math 250B, a multisection course, and not following the department’s procedures for the designation of a different book.

During a faculty hearing today, Alain Bourget, associate professor of mathematics, was given the opportunity to make his case for why a letter of reprimand was not warranted.

The hearing is an option available to faculty members who have filed a grievance under the CSU’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the California Faculty Association. The Faculty Hearing Committee now has 14 days to consider its findings and issue a recommendation to the University president.  

Use of the textbook “Differential Equations and Linear Algebra” has been the Mathematics Department’s choice for Math 250B for 25 years. Its fourth edition will be published soon. It was authored by members of the University’s mathematics faculty, Stephen Goode, who became the department chair in August 2011 — 20 years after the book was first selected — and Scott Annin, CSUF’s 2014-15 Outstanding Professor. 

The book, said Goode, was specifically written to address the needs of higher-level math courses at Cal State Fullerton, as well as to support specific learning outcomes requested by the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Since the first edition was published in 1991, the Goode-Annin text has been used at dozens of institutions. This semester, students at Bard College, Denison University, Lehigh University, Louisiana State University, New York University, Purdue University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, and the University of Texas at Arlington are using the text.

Textbook decisions at Cal State Fullerton are made at the department level.

“In the majority of cases, faculty have the freedom to use any textbooks that they believe will help achieve the learning outcomes of the courses they are teaching,” explained David Bowman, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “In the case of courses with multiple class sections, textbook selection may be shared across multiple instructors. Departments may elect to use a single textbook in such instances, particularly in courses where the subject matter is closely tied to the curriculum in subsequent coursework. This decision-making is left to the faculty in the departments as part of our system of shared governance.”

In the Mathematics Department, the selection of these books is made by ad hoc committees drawn from the faculty who have an interest in textbook review. The recommendations of these committees are then voted on by the entire department.

This general approach is noted in the 2013 “The Freedom to Teach” policy statement by the American Association of University Professors. An excerpt: “In a multisection course taught by several faculty members, responsibility is often shared among the instructors for identifying the texts to be assigned to students. Common course syllabi and examinations are also typical but should not be imposed by departmental or administrative fiat. The shared responsibility bespeaks a shared freedom, which trumps the freedom of an individual faculty member to assign a textbook that he or she alone considers satisfactory. The individual’s freedom in other respects, however, remains undiluted.”

In the case under discussion, Robert Koch — interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the time — convened an ad hoc committee in November 2013 to review Bourget’s request to change the Math 250B textbook. Goode and Annin were explicitly not included in the ad hoc committee discussion, due to potential conflict of interest. Because this committee was unable to reach a consensus about Bourget’s request, the standing policy for Math 250B was to remain in effect until the department could revisit the issue. In March 2014, the Mathematics Department voted to both maintain a single textbook for Math 250B and reauthorize the use of the existing book. Goode recused himself from this vote due to potential conflict of interest.

The Goode-Annin text is available as a used text, rented text, paperback, looseleaf version, and e-book, which are more affordable options than a new hardcover copy. The cost of books is factored into an institution’s cost of attendance, and can be supported by student financial aid.

Currently, the lowest cost online for the Goode-Annin text is $23.21 to rent a paperback, while the lowest cost online for one of the texts substituted by Bourget, “Introduction to Linear Algebra” (4th edition) by Gilbert Strang, is $35.16 to rent a used hardback. Bourget states that his second text is available free.

Textbook cost is an issue that Cal State Fullerton has historically taken seriously.

In addition to the more than $20 million in savings since 2007, TitanShops also offers a “lowest price guarantee” and a price-comparison tool on its website that allows students to shop other online stores for the best available pricing. Once a shopper selects the department and course number, the site takes the shopper to a page that shows the campus bookstore pricing, followed by the pricing elsewhere, with links to those off-campus booksellers.

This spring, the University hosted an Affordable Course Materials Expo to help faculty members learn about affordable textbook options, explore e-books and open-access materials, and learn about campus resources to reduce costs for students.

Also this spring, Cal State Fullerton was among 13 CSU campuses participating in a CSU initiative on the use of open educational resources textbooks, which offer students free and low-cost digital and print textbook selections through OpenStax College.