Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cal State Fullerton Math Professor Fights Mandatory Adoption of Department's Standard Alegbra Textbook

I saw something on this a week or two ago, but then forgot about it.

But the story's on the front page at the Sunday O.C. Register, "CSUF math professor in textbook battle draws support and opposition":

When Alain Bourget went public with his textbook spat with Cal State Fullerton last week, he knew the risky move would set off a wave of backlash from his department.

What the associate math professor didn’t see coming was dozens of emails and phone calls from CSUF students and professors around the country – and a nationwide discussion about academic freedom and mounting textbook prices.

“This has been the toughest week of my life,” said Bourget, who was reprimanded by university officials after he assigned alternative textbooks instead of one co-authored by the university’s math department chair.

The case and the debate that ensued were brought to light by the Register this month.

The textbook Bourget refused to use was “Differential Equations and Linear Algebra,” written by Stephen W. Goode and Scott A. Annin, the chair and vice chair of the math department. In some form, the book has been the singular text for Introduction to Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, also called Math 250B, for more than two decades. A new copy of the book costs $180 at the campus bookstore.

Bourget’s preferred teaching materials are “Introduction to Linear Algebra” by Gilbert Strang, which costs $76 new, and a free online publication, “Elementary Differential Equations with Boundary Value Problems” by William F. Trench.

Bourget said he chose those books because they’re a better fit for his students and cheaper than the Goode-Annin book. He tried to get permission to use the alternative texts over the course of two years. After several meetings with his superiors and no resolution, Bourget assigned his preferred texts last spring.

Shortly after, CSUF officials issued a letter of reprimand against Bourget, saying he violated math department policy and orders from university officials. School leaders cited a 31-year-old policy that states Math 250B – which has multiple sections – will use a common text approved by the math department. It doesn’t spell out the book-adoption process, book title or author.

Bourget challenged the reprimand letter last week at a public hearing, making his case before a panel of his peers. The three-member panel will decide by Friday whether the reprimand stands.

During the hearing, Goode acknowledged that his text was never formally adopted by the math department as Math 250B’s common text until 2014. Bourget raised issues with Goode’s book in 2013.

The matter has created a divisive environment within the university.

Most of CSUF’s math instructors – save for two, one of whom is Bourget’s wife – stand behind Goode and Annin. They have posted signs stating “The Math Faculty Supports the CSUF Department of Mathematics” outside their offices.

Math faculty members argue that the Goode-Annin text was written with the CSUF student in mind and has been used for years without issue.

“The present text has been successfully used for over two decades with no complaints, so no review was needed outside of the professors teaching the course,” said Margaret L. Kidd, an associate math professor who joined the math department in 2003.

Bourget opponents say the Goode-Annin book can be rented at a cheaper price. A rented copy at the campus bookstore costs between $56 used and $76 new, according to the listed prices, and as low as $16 for a rented paperback and $74 for a rented e-textbook on Amazon. A rental of the hardcover Strang textbook costs about $20 through Amazon.

Bourget said that although renting is an option, most of his students don’t do it because they want to keep the textbook as a reference. He said the renting argument is an attempt to “divert the conversation.”
Still more.