My colleague Neil McLaughlin has a blog post over at Canada’s Academic Matters that argues that it is unethical to require students to buy your own books, or at least to profit from the sale of those books:
There are, of course, good pedagogical reasons why a professor might want to assign a book they have written. The professor might genuinely believe it is the best textbook on the market, there is an advantage to going through the material that a professor knows well and has covered in a textbook she has written on the topic and there are few better educational experiences than reading a first-rate research monograph and having in-depth discussions of it with the author. But what possible justification could one give for keeping the royalties for oneself, as opposed to giving this portion of the proceeds to a student group or some such public good?
Frankly, this thought never even crossed my mind. When considering whether to assign my own book to my students, I did wonder if it would seem too egocentric or just plain tacky, but the idea that I shouldn’t keep the royalties did not occur to me. Of course, my little book isn’t very expensive, and therefore not very profitable. (I think if I bring a bag of Halloween candy to class, we’ll be about even.)
But while McLaughlin argues that the unethical nature of profiting from your students’ book purchases is a given, I suspect there is a lack of consensus on this issue. For example, as a student, I bought a lot of my professors’ books, and I don’t recall anyone announcing that royalties were going to charity. I wonder what the scatterbrains think.