You are a college professor. You’ve been told to use a $180 textbook written by your department chair about 25 years ago. You haven’t just been told. It’s mandated by the department. You find two less expensive textbooks widely used by other universities. Both do a better job at explaining information than the mandated textbook. You use the inexpensive less and receive a reprimand. Would you fight the reprimand?
The same situation happened with a Cal State Fullerton math professor in 2014. Professor Alain Bourget was disciplined. The Cal State Fullerton’s math department banned him from teaching the linear algebra class because he went against department policy. A letter of reprimand was also placed in his folder.
On October 5, his appealed was heard. Cal State Fullerton President Mildred Garcia denied his grievance. Prior to the decision, a faculty panel had heard Bourget’s appeal, but couldn’t reach a conclusion. Instead, they recommended the appeal be heard in a more appropriate setting. However, the panel did suggest he violated academic guidelines, but faulted the math department for not:
- Switching textbooks
- Letting professors voice an opinion about the textbooks used
Abiding by the Contract
Yes, textbooks are too expensive. Yes, most professors probably love for their students to use the textbooks they wrote rather than someone else’s—no matter how old the books are. Yes, the professor, on principle, was right to use better textbooks. On an employer-employee level he was wrong—until you look at the details.
An employment contract is a legally binding agreement between an employee and employer which defines terms and conditions of the relationship. These terms and conditions include:
- Termination requirements
- Non-competition agreements
- Grievance procedures
- Overtime requirements
- Damages an employee or employer may receive if the contract is broken
Although it appears Bourget violated his contract by refusing to use a mandated textbook, appearances can be deceiving.
A Deeper Look at the Policy
The Cal State Fullerton’s math department cited Bourget violated policy when he used a different book. When he questioned the policy, he was told to look at the policy. The policy, which was actually meeting minutes, showed a motion was made and approved. The textbook used in the linear equations course was the mandated book.
Here’s the first problem. The meeting minutes didn’t name a specific textbook. Bourget can’t be reprimanded for using a book that wasn’t mentioned in the policy. It doesn’t make sense.
Now for the second problem. The textbook he was reprimanded for not using was published in 1991.
When did the textbook policy meeting occur?
The math department purported mandated a textbook a full seven years before the textbook at issue was published and used. Unless the people attending the meeting in 1984 were collectively psychic, there’s no way they picked an unpublished textbook. It seems to me the math department violated its own policy by changing to the linear algebra textbook.
Bourget is Considering a Lawsuit
Bourget is considering his legal options. One option is arbitration. This is commonly called Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR. The process requires parties to explain their sides to an arbitrator. The arbitrator makes a decision based on the facts. In binding arbitration, both parties agree to abide by the decision.
Another legal option is filing a lawsuit. An employment complaint is filed by a worker against his employer, company, or supervisor. The lawsuit can focus on various types of employment law such as wage problems, harassment, and wrongful termination.
Shame on Cal State Fullerton
The math department at Cal State Fullerton really should remember its focus should be about students’ needs and not professors’ need to make money. It’s terrible that a professor should be reprimanded for picking better textbooks. What’s worse is he was punished for violating a non-existent policy. In 1984, the department mandated a textbook for the math class without naming one. Decades later, a professor is punished for using a textbook that deviated from the unnamed textbook. The facts don’t add up.
Authored by Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer