Self Authorship

Professors Assigning Their Own Texts to Students

“The right of individual professors to select their own instructional materials, a right protected under principles of academic freedom, should be limited only by such considerations as quality, cost, availability, and the need for coordination with other instructors or courses. Professors should assign readings that best meet the instructional goals of their courses, and they may well conclude that what they themselves have written on a subject best realizes that purpose.” (AAUP Policies & Reports)

An apparent conflict of interest may be present when textbooks and other educational materials produced by an instructor are required for a class that instructor teaches, and where the sale of such materials produces financial gain for the instructor. The instructor and the department are therefore encouraged to consider the following:

  1. It is not in the best interest of students to prohibit instructors from assigning textbooks they have written, given that such materials may be the best materials available.
  2. As with other course-level academic issues (e.g., establishing student learning goals, determining course content and structure, identifying individual course contributions to the department’s curriculum), selection of instructional materials is properly determined by the instructor and the department sponsoring the course.
  3. Instructors can employ a number of strategies to mitigate the apparent conflict of interest when they assign materials from which they may receive financial gain:
    • Confer with the department (e.g., curriculum committee or similar body) to establish that these materials are, indeed, the best (if not only) materials available to students.
    • Accommodate students who choose not to purchase the materials by placing copies on reserve in the library.
    • Avoid personal financial gain by donating royalties. Some instructors have been known simply to reimburse students who provide proof of purchase.
    • Disclose this issue (and efforts to address it) to students.

Given the variety of situations under which instructional materials are created, published, and ultimately assigned, one or more of the above strategies may be appropriate and may be pursued at the individual’s discretion.

COI primary contact

Melissa Skillings, MS, MBA, JD
Director, Office of Research Integrity