This whole affair is really no different than state highway workers deciding to sell traffic cones on eBay. No one would have a problem calling that theft, yet we tend to side-step the issue when it arises in academic contexts.
Similar exasperation at professors profiting from textbook sales is seen in a recent thread on Slashdot.
Some part of me really wants to be sympathetic to this position. I hate that textbook publishing remains one of the most (if not the most) profitable publishing sectors, at the expense of students who have little choice in the matter. I am equally disdainful of large journal publishers who do not pay the authors for their work (in fact, some charge the authors) and then profit from the libraries who must buy subscriptions. I agree that this is a problem.
There are professors who actually do make a tidy sum of money writing textbooks for profit. Are they doing this on the university’s clock? That really depends. I challenge you to find a professor — at least at the pre-tenure level — who works less than a 60-hour week. They don’t exist. So which 40 hours, and 10 months, belongs to the state. I can say that I spend more time teaching than doing research or writing, and the research and writing that I do has not been for profit. But if the state decided that my next textbook or novel — potentially written during the May-August dry months when I get to choose between the grocery and paying my rent — belonged to “the people” simply because I draw a paycheck from the state, I would not be happy about that.
The analogy above is false. What if one of those highway workers decided to write a textbook (“A Survey of Highway Safety”) or a thriller (“Orange Cones, Red Blood”), and sold this to a publisher. Should this be permitted?
Blacklily8 pooh-poohs the complaints of professors everywhere who plead poverty. OK, don’t cry for the profs. But this proposal alone would not be enough. Writing a textbook is not something that is done “for fun,” nor is it in the job description. Would you also _require_ faculty to write texts? If not, only non-professors (or professors at private universities) would be writing our texts. How does this solve the problem?
I’ve heard all the stories of professors making a bundle from textbook royalties, and I don’t doubt that there are some out there who are profiting on the backs of students. But stripping all faculty of their ability to make ends meet by moonlighting during the summers and weekend is definitely the wrong way to go. If you don’t like the textbook system, take it out on those who profit from that structure, not on public university faculty.