Students weigh benefits of prof-written texts

Students weigh benefits of prof-written texts

By Carrie Knific

Over the course of their academic careers at Northeastern, students are bound to find the textbooks used in some of their classes were written or edited by a professor. The Northeastern Bookstore stocks more than a dozen textbooks written or edited by the professors who require them.

While some students feel uncomfortable challenging the books as anything less than gospel, others said professors offer texts that are the best possible guide to course material.

Mary Turgeon, a professor and chair of the Department of Medical Laboratory Science, was approached by publisher Lippincott Williams ‘ Wilkins, to write four textbooks on laboratory medicine. Her books are now studied worldwide, and two of them have translations in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese including “Clinical Hematology: Theory ‘ Practices.” She uses them in two of her Hematology courses.

Turgeon said her contributions to the publishing world benefit her students and her teaching ability.

“Because I write and revise the books, I’m always reading research, so anything I come upon I share with class even before it’s added to the books,” she said. “It keeps me up to date and actively involved.”

Although students groan while shelling out cash for their textbooks, professors say the authors and editors of the books receive a meager percentage of what students pay for new books. “Basically, the author is lucky if they get 5 to 7 percent of the net profit. It’s not glamorous and not financially worth it,” Turgeon said.

The profit professors receive comes from new books only, Turgeon said. When students purchase used books from a secondary market like eBay or even the used books stacks at the bookstore, the writers and editors see none of that money. After the yearlong process of researching and writing, there isn’t a big financial payoff at the end.

“Writing textbooks is definitely a labor of love,” Turgeon said. “You really do it as a professional activity related to an area you really love.”

Criminal justice professor Harvey Burstein has written nine textbooks on security, all of which, except the first, were written upon suggestion from a publisher. His book, “Security: An Introduction,” is the only textbook required for his Introduction to Security course.

Having worked in the field for several years, Burstein said he prefers to offer books that illustrate his experience rather than texts from authors who simply spit out research, which he believes many textbooks do.

“I’ve seen other text written who’ve had no hands-on experience,” he said. “I can honestly say in terms of what I’ve written I’ve been there and done it.”

According to Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Susan Powers-Lee, there are no regulations against professors selecting their own works as textbooks, as long as the material matches the topic and level of the course.

Some students, like junior medical laboratory science major Derek Achila, said they find that professors’ own textbooks help outline what will be important for discussions and tests instead of weeding out information and associating selective readings with lecture topics.

Achila said he took several of Turgeon’s classes that have used her own texts. Achila said it improved his learning and liked that Turgeon encourages feedback on her writing.

“It makes it a lot easier and straightforward,” Achila said. “She already knows what she wants to cover and how to cover it and we follow it pretty well.”

In other areas of study involving the arts or people, where the material teeters between fact and interpretation, the choice of textbook could have a direct effect on how students learn about a subject, shaping their specific viewpoint on a topic.

“Sometimes I don’t agree with what a textbook says,” said sophomore human services major Ryan Sullivan. “But if it was my teacher’s writing I’d be less willing to dispute whatever I read.”

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