Reprimand Upheld for Professor Who Wouldn’t Assign $180 Text

Fullerton faculty panel finds faculty member broke rules by deviating from departmental choice, but also finds department didn’t have proper procedures in place.

November 9, 2015
 
Alain Bourget

The president of California State University at Fullerton is standing by the university’s reprimand of a professor who refused to assign a $180 textbook for his section of a multisection course.

Mildred Garcia, the president, announced that decision after a faculty review panel couldn’t reach a decision on what to do about the case, which has become a cause célèbre among those advocating a move away from expensive textbooks.

The panel found that the professor, Alain Bourget, indeed violated the university’s and department’s rules when he assigned another textbook (at a price of $75) along with free online materials in place of the more expensive choice of his department. But the panel also found that the mathematics department failed to follow the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors about imposing a departmental book choice on all faculty members who teach multisection courses.

That’s important because Fullerton cited the AAUP in originally defending the reprimand given to Bourget. And Fullerton is correct that the AAUP does give departments the right to select books for all sections of multisection courses.

But the faculty panel noted that the AAUP policy goes beyond that. The policy states that in multisection courses, “the decisions of the group may prevail over the dissenting opinion of a particular individual.” But in such cases, the policy states, “the department should have a process for periodically reviewing curricular decisions.” Further, the policy states that deliberations about common textbook choices should “involve substantial reflection and discussion by all those who teach the courses.”

The department violated these guidelines, the Fullerton faculty panel concluded. “There was no process for instructors to identify texts to be assigned,” the panel’s report said.

While the department quickly tried to consider the criticisms raised by Bourget -- who found the assigned textbook not only too expensive but ineffective educationally -- it failed to reach any consensus and thus left him banned from using alternatives.

The faculty panel also found that the issues were muddled because the textbook Bourget wanted to reject is Differential Equations and Linear Algebra, published by Pearson, and written by Stephen W. Goode and Scott A. Annin, the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the mathematics department at Fullerton.

Goode and Annin recused themselves from the discussions when Bourget asked to drop their textbook. But the faculty panel said their roles complicated the situation.

“The lack of a policy or mechanism for considering textbook change, coupled with the fact that the department leadership authored the text, created a situation wherein making a change was likely quite difficult,” the faculty panel said. Even with Goode and Annin recusing themselves, the panel said, “we are not confident” that faculty members who reviewed Bourget’s request to use another text “felt free to advocate for a change.”

Given that both Bourget and the department broke the rules, the panel said, it was “unable to reach a conclusion” on whether Bourget’s reprimand should stand.

Garcia, the president, then said that since the faculty panel wasn’t willing to lift the reprimand, she wasn’t, either. While the reprimand is not dismissal, it could hurt Bourget down the road when he applies for full professor (he is an associate professor now) or undergoes performance reviews that can result in raises.

Goode, the department chair and co-author of the textbook Bourget rejected, declined via email to comment, but he did share a statement signed by many members of the mathematics department. “Textbooks in these multisection courses are carefully selected at the department level with the best interests of our students in mind,” the statement said. “Given the large number of temporary faculty members teaching our courses and, most importantly, the hierarchical nature of mathematical content, especially in college algebra, precalculus and the four-semester calculus sequence (Math 150AB and 250AB), using common textbooks ensures that every student has access to the same course content -- it is critical to our teaching mission. This is our basic, longstanding justification for the CSUF math department policy to use a department-approved common text in any multisection course.”

The statement added that it was true that changes in textbook selections for multisection courses have been made only “somewhat infrequently.” But the statement added that was “in large part because our current selections were well vetted and were serving our students’ and instructors’ needs effectively.” Further, the statement said, “Dr. Goode and Dr. Annin have been accused of coercing the department into using their text. This is ludicrous; in fact, the opposite is the case. In philosophy, action and in words, they have made it clear that if we can identify a superior text to theirs, the department should adopt it. Clearly, that has not happened.”

Bourget, via email, said he was “very disappointed” with the university’s response to the situation. He said it seemed particularly unfair to let the reprimand stand when the faculty review panel found that his department was not following the rules.

To Bourget, the fight is not over. “I am fighting for academic freedom, lowering the cost of education and especially to give a better education to my students -- I will not abandon this fight,” he said.

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