Rutgers University Senate
Instruction, Curricula, and Advising Committee

Possible Conflict of Interest in the Assignment of Textbooks

February 2005

Charge S-0325: Consider the issue of assignment of textbooks in courses taught by paid authors or reviewers of those textbooks.  Make recommendations on whether policies should be established in this area, including return of royalties to textbook purchasers, price discounting, and the general appropriateness of the practice.  Consult with University Counsel regarding legal aspects of the issue.


This issue was originally brought to the Senate by Dean Holly Smith and stems from issues detailed in a Chronicle of Higher Education article:

Bartlett, Thomas, "Selling Out: A Textbook Example," Chronicle of Higher Education 49(42), June 27, 2003, pA8-A10. (

The primary issue addressed in this article is the practice apparently adopted by some publishers of offering either individual faculty members, or in some cases deans or departments, financial incentives to adopt specific textbooks.  In some cases these incentives are offered as "reviewing fees" that may total thousands of dollars but are clearly contingent upon adoption of that textbook.

Reviewing Fees:

After discussion it was the consensus of the Committee that the acceptance of

reviewing fees on the part of faculty is a non-issue as long as the fee is not contingent upon the adoption of any specific textbook.  Where such a contingency does exist the acceptance of that fee by an individual or department would seem to be a clear violation of professional ethics.  It is the opinion of University Counsel that in such cases there could also be legal issues under New Jersey law with respect to accepting a bribe and the state conflict of interest statute. [1]  In point of fact the State of New Jersey has previously instituted criminal proceedings when a state employee accepted payment in exchange for directing that others purchase specific course materials.

Use of Textbooks in Courses Taught by Authors of Those Textbooks:

The Committee was also asked to consider the issue of textbooks being assigned by the authors of those textbooks. 

In conjunction with our discussion, the Committee looked at policies on the use of faculty-authored textbooks currently in place at a number of different institutions, including the AAU public institutions. [See Appendix A].  Most either in some way restrict the amount of financial gain that can be realized from the adoption of a particular text, or have policies in place that in essence safeguard the individual from accusations of adopting a particular text based on financial, rather than pedagogical considerations.

In some cases policy requires prior approval from the department chair (e.g., University of Maryland; Boise State); the college dean (e.g., University of Arizona; University of Minnesota; Louisiana Tech) or, in the case of the University of Texas, the university president and the Board of Regents.  The largest number either require that the faculty member return monies resulting from sales of their textbooks to their students to the University or other non-profit institution  (e.g., Iowa State, University of Iowa, University of Kansas, University of Missouri, Penn State) or waived a required prior approval process provided that such monies were returned (e.g., Central Connecticut State, Western Washington State.)

It is the consensus of the Committee that there is nothing inherently wrong with someone using their own textbook for a course that they are teaching, especially in an upper level class where enrollment is limited and where that particular book may indeed be the one that best corresponds to the content of the course.  Author royalties are normally not more than six percent, even a very expensive textbook is unlikely to generate more than $250-$275 per course.

While only a small percentage of Rutgers courses would present an opportunity to realize any significant profit through the adoption of a specific text, it should be a given that textbooks are chosen on the basis of pedagogical merit and that neither an individual nor a department should profit financially from the adoption of a textbook where such profits are likely to be reflected in the prices being paid by students for those textbooks.

There are already Rutgers faculty that regularly give royalties received as a result of their textbooks being used in sections/courses that they teach back to the university.  As this approach to the issue safeguards the faculty member from any appearance of conflict of interest in the assignment of textbooks without encroaching on areas of academic freedom, it is the recommendation of this Committee that this practice be generally adopted.


1.  Faculty-Reviewed Textbooks

a.  New Jersey conflict of interest statutes (NJSA 52:13D-14; NJSA23(e)(6); NJSA 52:13D-23(3)(4)) prohibit a public employee from accepting any item of value (including monies) intended to influence that employee in the performance of their job.

b.  The acceptance of a reviewing fee that is contingent upon the adoption of any specific textbook is both ethically and legally questionable.

2.  Faculty-Authored Textbooks

a.  When Rutgers University faculty receive royalties on educational materials that they require in courses that they teach as part of the University curriculum such monies should be donated to the University or other not-for-profit institution.  For example, proceeds may be donated to the department, the library, a scholarship fund, or the University Foundation.

b.  It is understood that the faculty member must estimate such receipts arising from sales to his/her classes due to the variety of sources from which a student may purchase texts, and that contribution of royalties does not apply to royalties generated through sales of educational materials unrelated to the course in which the author required them.


02/04/05 revised

Click here to view Appendix A:  Policies on Use of Faculty-Authored Textbooks

[1] New Jersey conflicts of interest statute prohibit a public employee from accepting any item of value (which would include money) intended “to influence  him in the performance” of their job, NJSA 52:13D-14, and 23(e)(6) is essentially the same.  A public employee shall not have a “financial interest that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgement, NJSA 52:13D-23(3)(4).