Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who's Right?

Did you ever see the movie Crimson Tide, with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman?  It's a naval thriller, with (Captain) Gene Hackman and (Executive Officer) Denzel Washington mutinying and counter-mutinying on an American nuclear missile submarine--are they supposed to launch their nukes or not?  Gene says yes, Denzel says no.  At the board of inquiry after the incident an admiral states that they were both right, and they were both wrong.

Awesome movie.

That movie came to mind as I read this story, about a professor who didn't want to use the "approved" book for a course he teaches:
These issues came to a head Friday when Alain Bourget, an associate professor of mathematics at California State University–Fullerton, appeared before a faculty grievance committee to challenge a reprimand he received for refusing to use a $180 textbook his department had determined was the only appropriate text for an introductory linear algebra and differential equations course. Instead, he used two textbooks, one of which cost about $75 and other of which consists of free online materials.

Bourget maintains that his choices are just as effective educationally and much less expensive, so he should have the right to use them. But the university says that it makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same textbooks. Both Bourget and the university say their positions are based on principles of academic freedom.
Here's the fun part:
The Fullerton text in question is Differential Equations and Linear Algebra, published by Pearson with a suggested price of $196 but available at the Fullerton bookstore for $180 (used editions for much less). The authors are Stephen W. Goode and Scott A. Annin, the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the mathematics department at Fullerton. The textbook is currently in its third edition, and Pearson is preparing to bring out a fourth edition.
I can see both sides of this issue.  There is good and bad on both sides.

How do you decide?


Anonymous said...

"But the university says that it makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same textbooks."

It makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same final exam. The "destination" is the same, but the journey doesn't have to be unique. As long as Bourget's students can demonstrate proficiency in diff eq and linear algebra, it shouldn't matter whether or not that particular text is used.

Maybe Goode and Annin have an inflated opinion of themselves - it "just so happens" that their book is *the best* book for the course. It's a little too convenient, and a little too cozy.

Things sure have changed since I started university - for somewhere around $100 - $120, I bought my calc text (good for 3 semesters), a chemistry text (one semester), and my physics text (two semesters). Of course at the time I was scandalized by the cost, but it almost seems quaint now. I think the most expensive of the lot was 30-some dollars. But the books didn't have frippery like pointless pictures and four-color printing, which is a handy way to pad the price ~

Anonymous said...

You get the actual facts:

Darren said...

Are you implying that I have some incorrect information here? I read that link and didn't notice anything contradictory. One *new* piece of information, but not a contradictory piece, is that the book was adopted well before the authors assumed their math department supervisory positions.

MikeAT said...

On that movie, a friend of mine was the Watch Officer on Looking Glass. For your readers who were not alive during the Cold War, it was an airplane that was always aloft, a mobile command post to handle nuclear launch authorization in case the ground assets were taking out. My friend's dad had a 45 pistol and one of his jobs was if a fail safe operator would not do his job, the he would shot his ass and continue the mission. And after seeing the movie, he was adamant that Washington's character, LTCDR Hunter if memory services, was wrong. Once the order is given, it doesn't go back.

Ellen K said...

The entire textbook racket is a scam. The book I use for AP Art History is over $175. I swear they price these books by the pound. In think day and age, books should not be so expensive. What is more, I've heard of professors who do entirely unethical things to make it where students cannot sell back their books or even return them. In one case a freshman English professor had students tear out the title page. They were freshmen, and they didn't know it would make it impossible to sell back the books. I don't begrudge book stores or the authors of books making money, but when you are the Dean of a university, write a book, price it at a high price and then require it without any sort of consideration for the rising costs to students, then I'm not sure we are on a level playing field. Between rising fees and the cost of housing also rising, soon only the wealthiest families will be able to afford college for their children.

MikeAT said...

Ellen, a history professor I had back in my college days did something I still respect him for. He didn't have an assigned book for two main reasons. First, he said there was something wrong about a professor making students buy their own books (and this was back in 86(?). And the other is if he made us buy the books needed for his Early American History, it would cost over 200 bucks (big money back then). He put 8 books on reserve in the library and had us copy the pages needed, generally worked out to 40 pages a book. Still a lot cheaper than the 200 plus.

Auntie Ann said...

In my second semester of differential equations (which focused on series, and which would end up being put to much use when getting my masters,) the teacher used their own book, and one which had only recently been published. I hate not having a second source to use to understand the material. With a teacher using their textbook, which explains things their way, and giving a lecture which explains things the same way, if you get stuck, you have nothing left to look at without a trip to the library.

One of my engineering professors was even worse. His "textbook" was a printout of the transparencies he used for class.

Mark Viola said...

This reminds me of a history professor I had about 15 years ago. It was a upper level class on Florida's history and the professor being considered an expert on the subject, assigned one of his own books for the course. It was more of a history book rather than a text book, so it was considerably less expensive. Even so, he said that any student who brought a receipt showing that they had bought his book new, he would give them a refund for his royalties on that sale, so he would not profit by assigning his own book.