Dirk Mateer Left Penn State Partly Because of Big Textbook Publishing

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Since 2001, former Penn State Senior Lecturer in Economics Dirk Mateer gained an impressive following among students for his engaging personality, amusing examples, and web presence. So, when Mateer announced that he had accepted a new job at the University of Kentucky beginning July 1, some questioned the timing, particularly when the lecturer also co-directs the economics undergraduate program.

Now, Mateer has confirmed one reason he decided to leave —  the Penn State department of economics’ contract with textbook company Pearson Education. As first discussed in a post on the blog Economists Do It With Models, textbook companies like to sign contracts requiring professors to use their textbooks, particularly those with large class sizes like Mateer.

This way, the companies can drive prices as far up as they like and (gasp) the department will make students buy the books anyway. Capitalism at its very worst. Author Jodi Beggs writes, “What this means, obviously, is that instructors can’t always assign the text that they think is best, and, in an important number of cases, can’t even assign textbooks they’ve written themselves, at least not without forgoing royalties.”

But, when it came to Mateer’s “Principles of Microeconomics” and his forthcoming “Principles of Macroeconomics” textbook, both of which he co-authored, the professor instead opted for another deal with textbook company, W. W. Norton and Company. Mateer had used online draft versions of those books in his classes over the last several years.

“My decision to leave was a function of many variables, one of which was the relationship the Department of Economics has with Pearson,” Mateer wrote in an email to Onward State. “I was not entirely comfortable in that situation in my role as a lead author for another publisher. That said, the job I took was better for me in many other ways so it is hard to say how much of a role it played in the final decision.”

Alas, big publishing has cost Penn State one of its “must-take” professors, and that’s a shame. However, what’s even worse is what companies like Pearson do to students’ bank accounts.

(UPDATE 11:27 a.m.) The University responded this morning through spokeswoman Lisa Powers:

“The College of the Liberal Arts does require authors who want to use their own texts in any course to give back the amount of their royalties so it can be returned to benefit students in some way. Within the college, it is considered inappropriate to require students to buy texts that financially benefit the professor. As you can imagine, it could be seen as a conflict. Professor Mateer was granted permission to use his text in his course, however, the college’s policy did not permit remittance of royalties to him.

“The college does have an arrangement with Pearson, but just as background, long before textbook arrangements were ever conceived, it was a common practice at many institutions to have a standard text in all sections of an introductory course. This is not a new phenomenon and is certainly not out of the ordinary.”

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