New textbook policy confronts conflicts of interest:

By Keegan Ried:

Amarillo College has implemented a new policy to protect both professors and students from conflicts of interest when  instructors choose to publish and sell their own textbooks.

In the past, some students have experienced anxiety and frustration when they have been required to purchase a textbook written by one of their professors.

Thomas Redgrave, an astronomy major at AC, is one such student. Redgrave’s main concern was with the validity of the facts presented in the self-authored textbooks. “What if the professors get the information wrong? They could put out incorrect information and pass it off as fact,” said Redgrave.

Students are not alone in their anxiousness. Dr. Robert Bauman, professor of biological sciences, said, “I am distressed that the college has to have such a policy. I wish that teachers would have the character to only require things that truly benefit students no matter who authors or profits from them.”

The new policy provides a set of criteria against which all existing and future self-authored course materials will be judged. Those criteria include the extent to which the instructor or department stands to profit, whether or not the content is appropriate for both the Workforce Education Course Manual and the Lower Division Academic Course Guide Manual, if the material is reasonably priced, if the material has been peer-reviewed and if the material has been adopted at other schools.

Dr. Brian Farmer, professor of social sciences, said the policy brings clarity and is a welcome change. “AC’s new policy is still supportive of professors that want to publish in their fields, but the policy ensures that whatever the students are reading will be legitimate since it must be peer-reviewed and used at other colleges.”

“I think the policy is a great idea. It holds professors accountable and keeps them from passing their opinion off as fact,” said Redgrave. Redgrave also said that he is encouraged by the new policy but asked if the policy would apply to textbooks already in use.

The new policy is retroactive and all self-authored textbooks and course materials must pass scrutiny and be approved by the vice-president of academic affairs.

Both Bauman and Farmer said that their materials had been peer-reviewed and are in use at other institutions. Bauman said of the vetting process, “My books have been reviewed by hundreds of reviewers, more hundreds of adopters, and tens of thousands of students.”

  Bauman also said that he would encourage any professor who writes well and can author superior material to publish his or her own book. “This would add to the college’s reputation as an institution that encourages scholarship.”

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