Teaching from Your Textbooks
There's a raging debate going on at Liberty and Power Group Blog and the Volokh Conspiracy (discussion here). Aeon Skoble posted a very thoughtful discussion entitled, "A Textbook of Cluelessness," in which he criticizes Law Professor Ian Ayres, who argues that it is "borderline unethical for profs to assign textbooks they have produced."
Here is how I replied to this assertion today on L&P:
My, my, I've just looked at all these comments and the ones at Volokh too! Some are calling for Aeon's prosecution now for "profiting" from the pittance he makes in royalties if he assigns his books to his students.
Frankly, I'm at a loss.
If you teach a course on Marx's concept of alienation, and you happen to have written the book on Marx's concept of alienation, what's wrong with assigning the book to the class? That's what Professor Bertell Ollman did when I took his course on Marxism. And I profited enormously.
And when I teach cyberseminars on my own work, I have to assign my books. I'm teaching them! In a sense, what could be more fulfilling than reading and studying a text that your own professor has written? If you have questions about the book, what better source to ask?
I realize this is not the issue at hand: People are just ticked off that somebody somewhere might be making 4 cents in royalties. Clearly those who are upset over this have no clue about the standard academic contracts that require an author to sell 1000 or 5000 books before even making a dime on anything, on a sliding scale that nets you a couple of hundred dollars a year if you are lucky! (There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are exceptions). If some think we're in this for the money, well... we picked the wrong profession, folks!
As an aside, I've done some work on pre-Bolshevik education in Russia, prior to the Communist takeover. One of the things that really irritated Narkompros (the "Commissariat of Enlightenment") [once the Bolsheviks took over] was the fact that Old Guard professors were... HORRORS!... lecturing and using their own books as texts in their classes. Such books projected the individual professor's interpretation of history or philosophy, rather than the politically correct and approved version. As the Old Guard was exiled or shot, the requisite PC texts slowly replaced everything else. If you happen to have been an approved Marxist, you could teach your own PC text at that point. Otherwise, fuhgedaboudit!