A now public battle raging inside Cal State Fullerton’s math department is providing a window into an ugly side of university faculty politics and the lucrative world of textbook publishing.
Alain Bourget, an associate math professor, is slated to have an administrative hearing Friday about a reprimand he received for using a different textbook in an introductory math class than the one officially sanctioned by the department, which was written by the department chair, Stephen Goode.
Bourget first took his stand against his colleague’s book, a rarity in academia, in October 2013. He felt Goode’s book was overpriced and inferior to his first choice, which costs, on average, $90 less.
When Bourget put in a request to use “Introduction to Linear Algebra” by Gilbert Strang, as the textbook for his Math 250B class for the Spring 2014 semester, he was rebuffed by the course coordinator, Scott Annin, who has been Goode’s co-author since the third edition of the book. Annin, in an email obtained by the Daily Titan, the university’s student newspaper, told Bourget that he would like all sections of the course to use the same text.
Bourget ended up using Strang’s book that semester anyway, telling Annin that, to his knowledge, the department had not officially adopted a textbook for Math 250B.
Further emails obtained by the Daily Titan show that Goode, Annin and others began to take steps last year to force Bourget to use the book.
“My recollection is that when my text became available (around 1989), we adopted it by unanimous consent so no formal motion was necessary,” Goode said in an Oct. 17, 2013 email.
Controversial Policy Change
Associate math professor Adam Glesser said that since Bourget kept insisting there was no policy requiring that all sections of the course use the same book, the math department felt it was time to officially adopt Goode’s book for the course.
On March 7, 2014, the math department held a vote and Goode’s book was overwhelmingly accepted, Glesser said in a phone interview. He also said that, to the best of his memory, the only three in the department who voted against it were Bourget, his wife Gülhan Bourget, and Tyler McMillen. All are associate professors.
“There was absolutely no policy in the department about textbooks” before Bourget took his stand, McMillen said.
McMillen and Gülhan Bourget said the department relied on a policy from 1984, which was when the department voted to have a common book for all Math 250B classes. Minutes from the 1984 meeting show that the department approved a Math 250B book, but the minutes did not specify the book’s title or for how long it would be approved.
Goode said in an email that the 1984 curriculum committee codified this policy, allowing for textbook decisions to be made at the department level.
An Oct. 21 internal campus email from Provost José Cruz obtained by the Daily Titan shows that textbook decisions for multi-section courses, like Math 250B, are made at a department level through an ad hoc committee recommendation.
Both Cruz and David Bowman, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, refused to comment, citing personnel matters.
McMillen said the majority of a committee created to address the issue by former Dean Robert Koch favored Alain Bourget’s use of Strang’s book, the alternative to Goode’s. After the committee’s discussion, Koch said he would meet with Goode about an experimental section that would use Strang’s book, McMillen said.
McMillen said he never received any more information and the experimental section of Math 250B did not materialize.
On June 11, 2014, Alain Bourget received a letter of reprimand on June 11, 2014, which stated he “acted contrary to department policy when (he) did not use the single assigned textbook for MATH 250B sections.”
Gülhan Bourget and McMillen said that Goode stacked the deck against them by assigning Annin, co-author of Goode’s book since the third edition, as course coordinator for Math 250.
Gülhan Bourget said she has been teaching nothing but introductory-level math classes since she spoke up about the issue.
Department administration has the final say in what courses professors teach, according to the university’s interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement article they used in their response to Alain Bourget’s grievance.
Both McMillen and Gülhan Bourget said that they are risking promotions, and possibly their jobs, by showing their support for using another book. The two said that the use of Strang’s book would not only be a better learning experience for students, but it would also save them money.
Glesser disputed his colleague’s claims regarding Strang’s book, saying it was written for an MIT-type of audience and that Goode’s book better serves the CSUF program. He also said that when discussions took place regarding a possible book change, Alain Bourget never mentioned that it would save students money.
“The claims they have made are absolutely outrageous,” said Bogdan Suceavă, another math professor. He said Goode’s book could be rented and that nobody is forced to buy the book.
Goode’s book could be rented anywhere from $24 to $120, depending on the book rental website, according to research by the Daily Titan. Strang’s book could be rented for around $30 at most rental websites.
The loose-leaf version of Goode’s book could be bought starting at $100, while the hardcover is priced at $170, according to Amazon. The Strang book could be bought in the price range of $35 to $65.
“It’s easy for them to say (Goode’s book is) a great text,” Alain Bourget said. “They never used it. I don’t think they have taught the class.”
Glesser also disputed that the book’s price had been a big issue with Bourget. “In all the discussions, we never heard about the textbook (by Strang), (Alain Bourget) never brought up that price,” Glesser said.
Alain said that he did bring up the price, but at the March 2014 meeting to vote on the books, he was not given a chance to speak his side. Alain Bourget said that each time a motion was made, someone called a question, killing any chance of discussion.
“We could not express our views,” Alain Bourget said, adding that they did not speak about Strang’s textbook again until fall 2014 when McMillen unsuccessfully proposed using Strang’s book to the department.
Cal State Fullerton’s California Faculty Association chapter President Mahamood Hassan, Ph.D., will be representing Alain at Friday’s hearing.
“(Alain) did everything within reason,” Hassan said.
Hassan said that after 25 years of using the same text, the department should have considered other alternatives. He said the moves made by the department were about power.
“The administration sees nothing wrong with this,” he said. “They’re on a power trip.”
Hassan said he tried to call Cruz to testify for Friday’s hearing, but Cruz declined in an Oct. 17 e-mail obtained by the Daily Titan. Cruz is not only the provost, he is also the vice president of Academic Affairs. Cruz has not responded for comment.
“(Hassan is) completely full of it,” Glesser said. “He’s been nothing but hostile to our department since I’ve been here.”
Meanwhile, Alain said that the stress of the ordeal is taking its toll on his work performance, as well as his eating and sleeping habits.
“I won’t be surprised if they fired me for this,” Alain said. “I did it for the students. I didn’t gain anything from this.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at Scustodio21@csu.fullerton.edu.