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I'm currently teaching a fairly large introductory class, with about 500 students per semester (spread across multiple sections).

Recently, I received an e-mail from McGraw-Hill Education offering me a few hundred USD to complete a comparative review of our current textbook (also McGraw-Hill) and another McGraw-Hill textbook.

I am not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, it definitely sounds nice to me to spend an hour or two to look through a new textbook, and write a comparative review, and be somewhat well compensated for my time. On the other hand, it feels like they are trying to "bribe" me to adopt another textbook, which may perhaps be more profitable for them than our current recommended textbook.

Should I be wary about taking the money and accepting this offer? Is there something unethical about this? Also, would my university be upset about such an arrangement? I suspect this would happen at most once a year, if it indeed happens in the future.

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    All you've said is that they're offering you money to read and review the book. You haven't said that they've offered you money to use the book in your teaching and then read the review. It sounds more like they're trying to incentivise you to read the book, in the hope that you'll review it favourably and adopt it in your own teaching. To me, that's far from bribing you to adopt the book. – Ian_Fin Nov 3 '16 at 14:11
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    Just from an IT perspective: did this email include someone at McGraw-Hill you can contact to ensure it's not a phishing attempt? – tonysdg Nov 3 '16 at 15:26
  • @tonysdg Good question. I did a quick Google search and it seems that the person who sent me the e-mail has a LinkedIn account that looks real. If she gets back to me, I will try to verify that she indeed works there, before I spend the time to review the textbooks in detail. – I Like to Code Nov 5 '16 at 3:07
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I see nothing fundamentally unethical about this. It would become unethical if the request included a requirement that you adopt a particular book, or that you write something that pleases them. But by itself, requesting a review and paying you for it does not seem wrong to me -- they may simply be interested to hear from people in the trenches how these two books compare.

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