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Can A Professor Be Forced To Assign A $180 Textbook?

The choice of a single textbook for one section of a course at one university might seem like a decidedly local issue. But a dispute over whether an academic department may impose such a selection on all faculty members in a multisection course has set off a large debate over how textbook choices should be evaluated, who should select textbooks, whether price should be a factor, and academic freedom.

These issues came to a head Friday when Alain Bourget, an associate professor of mathematics at California State University at Fullerton, appeared before a faculty grievance committee to challenge a reprimand he received for refusing to use a $180 textbook his department had determined was the only appropriate text for an introductory linear algebra and differential equations course. Instead, he used two textbooks, one of which cost about $75 and other of which consists of free online materials.

Bourget maintains that his choices are just as effective educationally and much less expensive — so he should have the right to use them. But the university says that it makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same textbooks. Both Bourget and the university say their positions are based on principles of academic freedom.