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University of Pittsburgh

December 6, 2007


One of the issues the Senate has been discussing this year is whether University of Pittsburgh faculty should receive royalties for their authored textbooks that are required for courses taught at Pitt (see University Times, Nov. 8).

This discussion was prompted by an Aug. 15 memo from Provost James Maher and Senior Vice Chancellor Arthur Levine that implemented a new process for faculty to follow in order to waive the royalty fee for their books sold to Pitt students.

The textbook royalty issue itself is not new, although many faculty apparently were unfamiliar with it. Pitt’s existing academic integrity and conflict of interest policies have long mandated that faculty should not benefit financially from assigning their own books or other copyrighted materials for courses taught at Pitt.

What is new is the process that the University wants faculty to follow in waiving their royalty fees. The new process directs faculty to work with their book publisher and the University Book Centers to waive their royalties so that their authored books can be sold at a discount to Pitt students in the University Book Centers.

Faculty raised several concerns about this new process. One is whether the faculty member is responsible for contacting the publisher, which could prove burdensome. In response, the administration has agreed to have the University Book Centers contact the publisher if the faculty member signs a standard form waiving the royalty fee for their books sold at the University Book Centers.

Another concern is that the new process would prevent faculty who incurred expenses associated with researching or editing a book from recouping these expenses. Most faculty do not earn significant royalty income from their books. They write them in order to provide the best possible texts for the courses they teach. Some faculty say the extra paperwork the new process will create hardly seems worth the small potential savings to students.

These concerns certainly are valid yet miss the salient point, which is to avoid not only impropriety itself but even the appearance of it. University policy does not prohibit a Pitt faculty member from recouping expenses in publishing a book. It simply states that faculty should not benefit financially from assigning their own authored books or other copyrighted materials to courses at Pitt, and suggests a preferred method for handling it.

This suggested method is not the only way for faculty to comply with the guideline. Some publishers may refuse to deduct the royalty fee for books sold at Pitt because it will create extra work or extra costs. If the publishers do not deduct the royalty fees, faculty must donate any royalty money they receive from Pitt students’ purchases to their department for student use or to an organization that sponsors events for students. This also would allow faculty to deduct documented expenses from their royalty income.

I believe Pitt’s textbook royalty policy is a good policy. It does not prevent faculty from receiving royalties on books sold elsewhere. Rather, the intent of the new procedure is to standardize the process University-wide and eliminate even the appearance that faculty are inappropriately making money from their own students by requiring them to buy the faculty member’s own authored textbook or other educational materials.

John Baker is president of the University Senate.

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