When I was but a wee assistant professor, I still entertained the idea that giving a thought to my students' education would help me get promoted. Ah, the silly ideas of youth. (I do care about their education but I now realize that it distracts from research, which is how I'm really evaluated.)
A consequence of caring was that my colleagues let me lead our department's textbook committee. Actually, I am the committee. That means that every book vendor is sent to my office. I receive all their calls. They know that I make the decisions about books for our big gen ed classes. The experiences with vendors have made me a richer man. Literally, I'm making
bank, I mean, honorariums.
They want me to evaluate a chapter for a new gen chem book that's just like all the others. That will be $75. I'm invited to workshops where they show off their new online homework system. Those score me $100 for an afternoon at a conference or more if it's an overnight trip somewhere else. I've been to lunch with book sellers visiting campus and professional baseball games with marketing teams, all comp.
They get value for their dollar. I write one hell of a good chapter evaluation. I even check the end-of-chapter questions. Webinars don't compare to spending four hours elbow-to-elbow with other faculty, all trying to break the slick new online lab experiments that the publisher is trying to sell. We earn our keep.
The downside is that they call every God damned semester to see if I'll change books. I won't because our current textbook is slightly less terrible than the others and it's slightly less expensive too. Still, it's nice to be compensated for helping them, I enjoy the networking with fellow faculty textbook decision makers, and the book reps always pick up the bar tab. (I drink cheap beer so I'm doing my part to keep textbook prices low.)
What's the best free stuff you've gotten as an academic?