Professor disciplined for not using a for-profit text, written by his department chair

This post on the Chronicle’s site basically speaks for itself:  a text, written by the dept chair, was used for 25 years and had “never been questioned“.  When a faculty member tried to do otherwise, he was disciplined.

All I can say is:  good grief.  Update:  via Adam Glessner, there appears to be much more to this story than the Chronicle reports.  His point about not letting facts get in the way of a good story is well taken.  At any rate, if you click through to read the Chronicle article, you should also be sure to read Adam’s comments below.  Adam, thanks for sharing this.

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3 comments

  1. I’m a professor in that department, Matt, and this story is not what it seems.

  2. Adam, should I pull this post? Is it misrepresenting your view of the situation?

  3. Hi, Matt. We had an AMS conference at the university last weekend and I was probably asked about the situation thirty times. Within a minute of starting to explain the actual story, each one of the faculty with whom I spoke interrupted me with a variation of the following, “Oh yeah. We have a group in our department like that.”

    The professor in the story is one of three who have in my 3.5 years (and long before if my colleagues are to be believed) been working very hard against the department. This is just their latest stunt. It is clearly their most effective as he is being hailed as a hero for trying to protect students from outrageous textbook prices. Of course, not a single news outlet has pointed out that he never once brought up textbook prices as a relevant reason to change texts. Nor have they reported that he continues to use Stewart’s Calculus without a single complaint, and I imagine you know even better than I the price of Stewart. Textbook prices are a red herring. He has a grudge with the chair of the department and this was a convenient (and maybe brilliant) way to attack him.

    The truth is that the department chair wrote the textbook over twenty years before he became chair. As the course is a combined linear algebra and differential equations course, there was (and still is) a fairly small market to choose from. Furthermore, since the course is meant to service CS and engineering majors (in addition to math majors), this further narrows the choices. And since we aren’t drawing from the same pool of students as, say, MIT, we have to be very careful with our textbook choice. When Dr. Goode became chair, there was no discussion about changing the textbook because the instructors (and the students) were happy with the textbook. Dr. Bourget was the first instructor to voice any concern about the textbook. He wanted to use Strang’s Intro to Linear Algebra instead.

    As department policy for this multi-section course is to use a single textbook, the chair denied the request. Dr. Bourget then went to the dean. After an ad hoc committee denied the request, the dean (and I believe even the provost) told him it to use the regular textbook. The dean suggested that we set up an experimental section in a future semester so that he could try the book. This is something done frequently in the department, so it probably would have been feasible to set up. However, Dr. Bourget (under the advice of the union president) decided to circumvent the usual ordering procedures and told the bookstore to order Strang’s text. A few weeks into the semester, the chair found out and notified the dean, and the dean issued a reprimand. Of course, a reprimand is a “don’t do this again” statement—that is it.

    The department had meetings where the issue was taken up. In one of the foulest displays of incivility I’ve ever seen in academia, Dr. Bourget had his wife read 1-star reviews of the chair’s textbook at the meeting. The department decided to make the procedure for changing textbooks more formal and also to take a vote (not in the presence of the chair or the co-author) to see whether the two main texts for the calculus sequence were still supported. Both were reaffirmed overwhelmingly by the department.

    Now, I don’t care for Stewart’s text. I would rather use a more…active version of calculus 😉 However, things aren’t just about me. I understand that we need to coordinate probably thirty part-time faculty in Calc I-III, and so to a certain extent, the book must be something with which everyone will be comfortable. There must be access to online homework systems that coexist with our LMS. And so on. The point is that textbook choice and textbook change is complicated. This means that I will make my case to change over time. I will convince faculty that my ideas for the course are better, and by so much that it will outweigh the transition cost. What I won’t do is try to cheat the system, disrespect my colleagues, and then go air the department’s dirty laundry in public when I don’t get my way. This is not how Dr. Bourget’s group operates.

    During our last department chair election they attempted to rig the system by trying (again at either the suggestion of or at least with the full support of the Union president) to give our 50+ part-timers equal voting rights as the full-time faculty. At first this seemed odd to us because they had been so derogatory towards part-timers in the past. But no, they said, they had had a change of heart. Despite the part-timers having very little interaction with the chair (someone else does the hiring and scheduling), this group claimed that they should (since they outnumbered us by a large margin) be able to select the chair. They then went about trying to convince those part-timers to vote against Dr. Goode. Thankfully, their actions couldn’t overcome the facts: Dr. Goode is a wonderful chair, leader, teacher, and academic. The part-timers voted unanimously in his favor.

    It is unfortunate that the media is uninterested in hearing from us. The story is sensational, and one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

    Adam

    P.S. Keep up the fantastic work on your text. I’m a big fan.

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