Take It From Magical Me: Avoid the Gilderoy Lockharts of the University

You know what galls the everloving bejeezus out of me? When successful tenured professors force their own undergraduates to buy their books for class at full price. No, no, no, no, no. However, writing this article gave me an opportunity to reveal to college students everywhere that “the Potter universe is real, and directly transferrable to the college experience.” At least in this one instance…

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23 thoughts on “Take It From Magical Me: Avoid the Gilderoy Lockharts of the University

  1. Agree completely. I once TA’d for a prof who assigned his own self-published novel in an Intro to Lit course so the students could experience a living writer. No matter that the school had a highly-ranked creative writing program he could have mined for just such a writer. It was in paperback, so not a huge burden, financially, but even the students could see through his preening.

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  2. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be standards and practices to prevent abuse, although the possibilities for monetary gain on the part of most humanities faculty are negligible. But as undergrad involvement in research is a high impact practice, I’m not persuaded that sharing the results of that research — from the faculty POV — should be excoriated like this.

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  3. What ever makes you think that using profanity in your writing makes you a better or more entertaining? To the contrary, it makes you sound like a naive college sophomore who thinks that interjecting the word “bullshit” into criticism makes you profound. And, by the way, my name is Dick.

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    1. Actually, it’s the fact that I’ve always used sunscreen that makes me seem like a college sophomore. The swearing is just how I talk naturally, and nobody is fucking forcing you to read anything, fuckwad.

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      1. & yet somehow, you have a huge readership. Decline and fall of Western Civilization feminism vulgarity alas standards alas the canon bonfire of the vanities argle barge ARGLE BARGLE I SAY.

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      2. hahahahahhahah and FWIW, I don’t have a huge blog readership, I have a decent Slate readership–and Slate doesn’t allow profanity except in quotes that are newsworthy, so I srsly don’t get this guy anyway.

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  4. With the previous caveats about standards, giving away intellectual property for free just reinforces the notion that it’s not worth much. If I assigned your book to my class, our anyone else’s, I’d never expect you to do it for free. I’m not sure why I’m expected to give stuff away.

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    1. Excerpting a chapter for instructional purposes is not giving away intellectual property; it is using it exactly for its intended purpose. Putting copies on reserve is the same thing. Those practices should be encouraged. I would be mortified if anyone assigned my book in its entirety in their class. It’s for library research! Not reading beginning to end (LOL).

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  5. Being at a somewhat lower-prestige–and genuinely affordable!–state school, we’re seeing a strong push in the opposite direction from our admin. They’re asking us to try and find open-source material when it’s at all possible as an alternative to expensive textbooks and there’s even (modest) funding for folks working on open source material. So much as I will from time to time grouse about wanting our administration to die in a fire, in this area at least their heart’s in the right place.

    (I’m particularly interested in seeing what comes of outfits like Openstax.)

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      1. Yep. Especially since it’s sort of an open secret that most survey textbooks are pretty much copied from other survey textbooks in a way that only just falls short of plagiarism, and then the act of writing them is usually farmed out to RAs. So the prof assigns the book, gets the royalty checks, and really hasn’t done much actual writing either.

        (Open source material is not without its problems, but it’s a damn sight better than pumping out a new edition of a book every year so as to prevent people from even being able to buy a used copy of the book. And don’t get me started withe Pearson’s flogging of its online supplements that can of course only be used by people who’ve bought a new copy of the book or bought a separate login…)

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  6. I’d like to make a case for being an exception to your discussion. I teach in a school of education preparing new teachers and I’ve written several books that are neither textbooks nor works of scholarship but books written for classroom teachers, not make-and-take but practice-focused with a strong scholarly foundation, and part of a category known as professional books. They’re well-written, in the $20 range, with older ones available used and cheap on amazon, and I (usually) rebate my royalty of about $2per copy via bringing expensive chocolates the last night of class. I only assign one of my books if it’s relevant to what I’m teaching anyway, and it’s one of several short professional books I have them read. To give students free copies would cost me money since my own books cost me half of the cover price, tp make PDFs available would violate the copyright and cheat my publisher.

    There are professors who write books of genuine interest to students, though perhaps mostly special cases like mine.

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    1. I think that falls under the “written for a class” category. However, that said, some authors are able to negotiate retaining the copyright of their books and so making PDFs available to students isn’t cheating anyone.

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      1. Years ago I had a Symbolic Logic professor who clearly had retained the copyright to his book. He provided our class with textbooks that had been printed by the campus print shop — so they looked more like workbooks than swanky textbooks. The published textbook would have cost $100, at a time (1982) when that was a heart-stopping price for one text. We each paid ten bucks. I would have kissed him on the lips if I could have gotten up the nerve.

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  7. This wonderful and obviously right article reminded me of a history class where the professor not only assigned his own text for us to purchase, but also handed out his 20 or so page CV to the entire lecture hall at the first class meeting.

    I’ve never regretted dropping.

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  8. Just a few remarks about math books, or at least upper-div math books:
    Mathematicians necessarily typeset as they write, so the publisher doesn’t do anything but slap on a cover and a price tag. Lots of people use their own texts, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who made their students pay for the text unless the publisher didn’t allow them to distribute PDFs. I also don’t know anyone who got paid a dime in royalties for an advanced text–usually people get freebies from the publisher or nothing at all, even if it’s a (comparatively) widely-used book. Math books are
    expensive mostly because print runs are small. OTOH, math students worldwide have elevated piracy to an art form.

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  9. Should or should not Lehninger have assigned his biochem textbook … that turned out to be the textbook, *the* textbook at the time?

    And — I’ve studied with v. famous people but they were always more comfortable not teaching their own work. Math, yes, I remember having calculus from a prof who was the author of the book but again it was the standard book at the time. I don’t know. I didn’t consider it bad then. Probably now it would be all on .ppt.

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