Investigation Finds ASU Had No Unethical Ties to Textbook Publisher Cengage

Higher Education

Investigation Finds ASU Had No Unethical Ties to Textbook Publisher Cengage

By Jeffrey R. Young     May 30, 2019

Investigation Finds ASU Had No Unethical Ties to Textbook Publisher Cengage

After an Arizona State University professor’s email went viral last month, accusing the institution of adopting online textbooks in exchange for grants from their publisher, officials agreed to the student government’s call for an independent investigation.

This week the university released the results, which found no unethical behavior and no proof for the professor’s key claims.

But while the most explosive charges leveled by the professor, Brian Goegan, who had recently been let go from the university, did not turn out to be substantiated, the independent report provides a window into the growing practice of requiring students to purchase digital textbooks in order to submit their assignments. The professor said assigning these systems amounts to making students pay to turn in homework.

That report, prepared by Ruth V. McGregor, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona, said that after looking through all payments made by the publisher Cengage to the university over the last few years, she found no large grant. And she uncovered no evidence for Goegan’s claim that department leaders had asked professors to fail a set percentage of students in one version of a course so that other sections using the publisher’s software would look markedly better by comparison.

“I do not doubt that Professor Goegan believed that Cengage had promised a grant in return for the agreement of the Economics Department to require use of Cengage products, but no evidence exists of such an agreement, and considerable evidence exists to disprove the statement,” she wrote.

She did, however, confirm that many sections of an introductory economics course do require the purchase of a textbook and a companion MindTap software to turn in homework, noting that the university negotiated a discounted rate for students to purchase them. Goegan argued that the practice is unethical, and that professors can have students turn in homework via the course management system so they can avoid buying MindTap.

The investigation points out that Goegan is not alone at ASU in that objection. “He is joined in his view by another clinical instructor, Professor William Foster, who agrees that requiring students to purchase both the eText and MindTap is unethical, as each professor should be able to decide individually whether to use these resources.”

But McGregor’s report found that no other professor she spoke with shared that opinion, and in fact the system had fans who thought it was improving student learning. “For those professors who regard MindTap as a positive teaching force, the issue is one of pedagogy, not ethics,” she wrote.

Goegan told The Arizona Republic yesterday that he is now convinced that there was no large grant from the publisher, but that it “remains open to question” why that company’s products were chosen and were mandated across all sections of a large economics course. “Justice McGregor seems to have limited the scope of her investigation strictly to the existence of a grant, and not the existence of a quid pro quo arrangement,” Goegan told the newspaper in an email.

A university spokesman declined to comment, noting that officials had decided to let the report speak for itself.


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