Book Royalties and your Conflict of Interest (COI) Disclosure

Updated January 21, 2015

The public expects NCSU’s faculty to avoid any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment policies, codified in REG 01.25.01 ( The primary way in which faculty disclose actual or apparent conflicts is through the COI reporting system.

The various conflicts of interest and commitment include, among other things, consulting work, work that would generate patentable intellectual property (IP) developed in University laboratories, business interests in firms that have links to NCSU faculty and their work generated in University facilities, and so on. To the extent that any faculty have such conflicts, faculty are required to follow the guidance provided in REG 01.25.1 and in the online Conflict of Interest disclosure form.

We get many questions in the COI process on textbook royalties. Many CHASS faculty write books that are used in their classes. Writing textbooks is an important contribution to scholarship and teaching that the College encourages. However, the assignment of our own textbooks to students may create actual or perceived conflicts of interest to the extent we earn royalty payments on these sales.

The University does also note faculty possess the best knowledge of the contents of their own books, and how to teach from them. And most COI submissions note that our faculty have written books to satisfy a need in the market: better textbooks in that professor’s field of expertise. The university therefore encourages departments to develop “management plans” for assigning the texts to our student, and for managing textbook royalty revenue earned from such sales. The university provides little guidance for such plans, and there is no rule that governs how they are handled. However, we consider the management plan for textbooks to include two, easily identified elements:

  • What process was used to adopt the textbook?
  • How are royalties earned from the assignment of this book to your students returned, somehow, to the University for the benefit of students?

This management plan can be described briefly in the COI form. Simply indicate:

  • The process by which the textbook was adopted. Was it selected or vetted by a committee? Approved by your head? Or assigned based on your own professional judgment that this is a good and appropriate book? Any of these processes are acceptable to the College provided that the process is explained.
  • The disposition of your textbook royalties. The guidance we have seen from various informal sources is that, to avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest, you should donate any royalties derived from the sale of books to your own students as assigned course readings to a fund that would benefit students. Such donations would include donations to scholarship funds, the Friends of the Library, department funds benefiting students, and the like. A good-faith estimate of the amount of royalties would suffice, keeping in mind that many students may buy used or discounted copies of your books, so, for example, if all your students bought used copies, you may have no royalties to report. You need only indicate what you plan to do with the revenues, without great elaboration.