Like every school and department on campus, the MU Department of Economics has had to compensate for decreasing financial support from the state. Recently, the department found a way to increase its $30,000 annual budget by more than 40 percent — by requiring students to buy a textbook written by department faculty.
While MU prohibits professors from making money on course materials they write and then assign to their students, the policy allows royalties to be paid to the department.
At least 1,300 course packs, which sell for $133 and include a book edited by economics professors, have been sold so far, said David Mandy, the department’s chair. The department will receive a royalty of $10 for each bundle sold.
“All of the royalties from the reader sales are being returned to the economics department to support the teaching, research and service missions of the department,” Mandy wrote in an e-mail describing the transaction. “The faculty members who worked on this are not receiving any of the royalty money.”
The situation is not unique to the economics department, says MU spokesman Christian Basi, but it’s hard to say just how common it is. Basi said MU does not have a method in place to track royalties, and while faculty are asked to disclose potential conflicts of interest each year, there is not a way to require discclosure.
The books are not available from the University Bookstore; rather economics students are required to buy the course bundles texts directly from the publisher, Thomson South-Western. While the economics department took measures to limit the cost of the required textbooks, Michelle Froese, public relations manager for University Bookstore, said the royalties to the department through the sale of the bundles represent “a hidden educational fee.”
Froese said another common practice in the textbook publishing industry is for publishers to cut a check to departments in return for business.
Publishers recoup the money they spend by raising the price of the books when they sell to the bookstore.
Karen Jefferies, associate director of the university bookstore, admits that it is hard to track these kinds of deals between publishers and academic departments. However, she believes they contribute to the high cost of textbooks.
“For me to sit here and say I’m doing everything I can to keep prices down, and then have these things going on doesn’t sit well with me, Jefferies said. “And it’s something we may never know about.”