I'm currently taking a class that doesn't have a required textbook, which is why I took it. My professor is now saying that due to her scanning and printing out handouts for use we are each required to give her $15. I'm confused by this because isn't the money supposed to go through my university, as a fee for the class, rather than through her? I just want to know if she's allowed to do this

  • 51
    Perhaps a locale would be beneficial here – dalearn Dec 3 '17 at 1:06
  • 11
    @daleam isn't this a hidden fee? Regardless of local or how reasonable $15 sounds there is a duty to inform before the class is chosen. See bait and switch – candied_orange Dec 3 '17 at 15:26
  • 4
    As a grad student, my advisor once ordered some mimeographed notes, related to a topics course he was teaching, and told us if we wanted a copy to give him $10 and he would order one for us too. This wasn't required, so is different than the OP's situation, but I think it was perfectly reasonable so a general answer to the titular question is Yes. – Kimball Dec 3 '17 at 17:27
  • 13
    @Kimball There is a huge difference between "this stuff is not mandatory but might be nice to have, I will get one for you for $10, but if you don't want one that is also ok" and "Please give me $15 everyone"... – Dirk Dec 4 '17 at 12:30
  • 27
    We have 2017, printing out anything should be optional and a pdf available. – PlasmaHH Dec 4 '17 at 14:22

A professor should not be asking directly for money from the students. If the professor is scanning and printing things out for the students at her own expense, then something is wrong. Either the assignments and handouts should have been compiled into a course book, or the department should be helping to defray the professor's expenses.

Regardless of the request, I would be very uncomfortable giving money directly to the faculty member. It could be paid to the department, which would then reimburse the faculty member. But I would never hand cash or a check over to the faculty. This sets a very bad precedent.

  • 67
    This answer is wrong or at least dependent on the country / univeristy. Where I did my MSc in the Netherlands this happened all the time. In some courses they asked you to buy (or rent) a book. In other courses the faculty or professor printed their own book and students were required to buy it. The prices were very reasonable (5-20 euro) and were indeed just printing and binding costs. It was usually the secretary who collected the money, but sometimes the prof. Nobody ever thought this was unreasonable. – louic Dec 2 '17 at 22:48
  • 18
    @louic: As I said, I wouldn't pay the faculty member directly. It's a different issue if the department is collecting the money. But the professor shouldn't be pocketing cash. – aeismail Dec 2 '17 at 23:29
  • 31
    Some malpractice happening at your university does not mean that it is not malpractice. Every university has to have a finance department. And there is a reason why it is called finance department. – padawan Dec 2 '17 at 23:36
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Dec 5 '17 at 14:47

I have never seen anything like this (I'm from France). I could imagine it might make sense, but as a student I would also find it a bit weird and would prefer that the money collection part were managed by the university rather than by the professor directly. As a professor, if I ever needed to do something like this, I would request explicit consent from each student before incurring expenses on their behalf, and I would provide a receipt when asking for reimbursement so that they know that they are reimbursing me the actual printing cost.

In any case, if this makes you uncomfortable or if the fee seems unreasonable to you, but you don't want to make a fuss, one option could be to ask the professor to send you a PDF and do the printing yourself, or to make copies yourself of a fellow student's copy of the course material.

  • 4
    Interesting. I'm from France too, and I've seen this relatively commonly. It happened in high school when registering for Concours Kangourou and when getting discounted magazine subscriptions, and it happened again in college for group purchases of language textbooks. On other occasions, our class representative would be the one paying for everyone and getting reimbursed. – Clément Dec 3 '17 at 13:39
  • 3
    @Clément: this is indeed happening a lot but as far as I remember, the chèques were always written for the school. They were handed to the teachers and yes, when it was cash, they were getting it as well (what I am trying to say is that it was always a school expense, not a private one by the teacher) – WoJ Dec 3 '17 at 19:17
  • 5
    Often professors do things that the university should do, because the university bureaucracy is too inefficient to do it. So bear in mind that the professor may be uncomforatble/unhappy with this arrangement as well. – Thomas Dec 5 '17 at 1:40

Group orders of printed materials are frequently organized by professors in my experience, just to get better prices for the students. However, these are usually prefaced with "of course you can acquire these materials on your own, but they're going to be $X if I order them and I believe they are usually $X+z otherwise. Please put your name down on this page if you would like me to order one for you."

It may be that your prof is just bad at communicating. But what's odd in your case is that it seems to a) not be voluntary/your prof didn't give you an alternate avenue to acquire the materials and b) it's just copying worksheets, which should be part of regular expenses. I can't believe the department wouldn't have a copier available for the prof to use for free! Edit: I stand corrected, there are apparently many places where professors are charged for copying, in which case it may be those costs your prof is trying to recoup.

  • 3
    I've been in departments which permitted me only to copy in-class exams at departmental expense. No worksheets, no take-home assignments, no syllabi. At least one other department didn't even permit copying in-class exams. – cfr Dec 3 '17 at 3:57
  • Departmental copiers still cost money to run and faculty are often charged for their use of it. – fluffy Dec 3 '17 at 4:22
  • At my institution, we--or at least our grants--pay about $0.06/page for black and white printing (including copies). – Matt Dec 3 '17 at 21:44
  • 1
    Interesting, seems that is a pretty common thing then. Back when I was in undergraduate (in France) we paid a ~$100 "copying fee" per semester to the university to cover those costs. – nengel Dec 4 '17 at 4:32

As others mentioned numerous times already, the geolocation might dictate how appropriate this "requisition" is. To start with, copying textbooks is already some questionable ethics, and selling a copied (even partially) copyrighted material is somewhat shady. Besides, it makes little sense to force students to use the sources with low availability.

I remember a few times when the book was really hard to come by, and it was before the time when internet became widely available. Despite this, all the time there were numerous options, either the book was available for free in the library, or the teacher hands out a few copies and people were able to photocopy for the rest for free. In a class of 30+ people finding someone with an unlimited access to Xerox machine hasn't been a real issue.

These days at the university's library there is quite often a professional-grade book copier, which can also send scans to your university account for free (included in tuition fee). Besides, you can always make photos with your smartphone these days and decide whether you want print it out or read from a screen. To sum it up, technically getting textbook copies has never really been an issue.

Taking all of this into account and the fact that your professor hasn't informed you beforehand or left you with other options signifies poor organization of studying process to say the least.

  • 5
    plus there are high chances this person is trying to make some earnings on the side. -> This appears to be a completely unsupported assertion. How do you compute that there are "high chances" that this is happening? – Spiny Dec 4 '17 at 15:57
  • @Spiny Well, a person receives a salary from the university and still is selling items – I don't know how else this can be called. But you are right, it is more like a subjective judgement and is unnecessary here, so I edited my answer. Thank you for pointing this out! – andselisk Dec 4 '17 at 16:02
  • 2
    +1 High-schooler here. Our teachers often make a neat set of notes (to supplement what's in out textbooks; useful, but not compulsory), and then ask one of us to photocopy it for everyone else; it's the bloke who volunteers for this that collects the money for it (after giving us our copies). Less than a dollar for most notes, and it saves us a ton of writing... so it's fair trade. The only thing that passes from (and back to) the teacher's hands are the original notes. – paracetamol Dec 4 '17 at 16:27
  • 1
    @andselisk OP said they were handouts, not necessarily a textbook, let alone a commercial one. In my college, some teachers had short textbooks written by themselves only for use in their class (not published). Nothing unethical about copying that. – André Paramés Dec 4 '17 at 19:44
  • @AndréParamés If this were the case, the teacher should have just send the PDF of selected pages/chapters to the students and don't charge anything for printing. A person could offer to buy the signed textbook's hard-copy as an option, this is fine, but should never force own material in such a way. – andselisk Dec 4 '17 at 23:13

The issue here is sometimes the professor is actually doing this as a cost saving technique. You can buy the required materials for $15 or buy this textbook for $200 of which we only cover 1 chapter.

Some schools are lucky enough to have an actual binder department, which can do this for them at much cheaper price and some schools don't.

Whether or not it is wrong depends on your schools/departments rules and regulation. Some places have a cost threshold, and below that it is not mentioned. Sometimes it is a case of either the instructor forgetting to put it on the syllabus or they missed a deadline after which it can't be changed for another semester. There could copyright issues here, but some instructor have actually gone through the effort to get written permission from the author or publisher to at least make it legal in terms of copyright.

I suggest you get a copy of your student handbook, probably online at their website or in the admissions or registration office. See what it says, and if it contradicts the policy email the instructor and let them know.

The downside here is if the instructor has been doing the students a favor, the instructor may be force to list a $200 textbook. Instead of just paying $15, now you need pay $200.


Check your department policies. It likely varies from school to school, but every department should have their policies available for students. It may take some digging, but getting the official information will be worth it if it makes you uncomfortable.

My wife had a similar situation her final year. Her professor created a booklet of worksheets and required each student for $15 to pay for the printing and binding of the book. She claimed that doing it this way would save the students money as she could get them at cost. We checked the University website and found the department policy page. It took us about 20-30 minutes to find the relevant information It was explicitly stated in the policies that faculty and staff were not allowed to take money directly from students and any required course materials had to be made available through the campus store or online.

We emailed the professor our concerns and a copy of the policy (and copied the department head). The professor apologized for violating policy and made the material available through other methods (the campus store also sold them for $15 btw).

If the material isn't required, or there is no specific policy, then ask the professor for digital copies to be made available. Most professor's I knew were very accommodating in making course materials available in multiple formats.


No, she is not allowed to do this, unless your syllabus states you can incur photocopy costs, and I've never seen that. At most institutions your syllabus is a contract, and wide departures are subject to formal grievance. Without that in place, what's to stop her from charging you for 300 pages per week at $0.10/page? She probably has no sinister motives, but you are not obligated to pay. (Ironically, having a required text would likely set you back far more, but that was a factor you were able to assess prior to entering the contract).

But, I suggest you simply tell her you can't pay. Bringing this up at a higher level might have consequences she might not deserve. Asking students for payment directly looks pretty bad.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.