Teacher Fired for Refusing to Make Students Buy Pricey Textbooks

Students may rightfully gripe at the cost of tuition for college, but once there, realize they face another major expense in the form of pricey textbooks for each class. According to the OC Weekly, Mike Tracy, an animator and long-time teacher at the Art Institute of California-Orange County, knows this. Wanting to save his students some money, rather than requiring them to buy an e-book he considered “redundant” and “irrelevant,” he left all texts off his syllabus and is now out of a job because of it.

Tracy, who has previously never required books for his Photoshop class, was informed by school administrators that all teachers must require e-book purchases from their students as part of a new school policy. When Tracy refused to adhere to that policy, he received a letter dated last Tuesday, August 10, from school president Gregory Marick, who issued this ultimatum:

"As you have been previously informed, you are required to utilize an eBook from the list…Failure to comply with this directive will result in your immediate termination of employment for insubordination."

The teacher refused, and was fired August 14.

But there’s more going on here than meets the eye. According to an article on Good.is, all fifty schools bearing the Art Institute’s name are owned by a company called Education Management Corporation (otherwise known as EDMC.) EDMC exclusively uses e-books offered through a service called Digital Bookshelf, which is run by EDMC’s distributor, VitalSource. Art Institute requires students to pay $50-$75 to Digital Bookshelf  to download a copy of each e-book required by their teachersbut the downloads are only temporary, lasting just the duration of the semester. Students are not allowed to substitute a hardcopy for an e-book; they may buy one in addition, but the download is required under all circumstances.

According to the article, Tracy feels that the Art Institute has constructed a system to insure students pay money for books they may not even need, and ones they can't even sell back after the semester is over.

Mike Tracy may now be out of a job for refusing to participate, but his fight is not over. After almost 12 years of dedicated teaching, his students are coming to his aid. One in particular, Justin Nouget, set up a petition on Change.org to reinstate his teacher and call attention to the school’s policy of charging inflated fees. Almost 3,000 students, parents and former coworkers have signed it already and left a multitude of messages in support of the fired teacher.

In that petition, Nouget quoted a statement made by Tracy on his personal Facebook page:

“As many of you know, I have been in a dispute with our school, the Art Institutes, for some months now, over their policy of mandatory e textbooks in classes where their inclusion seems arbitrary, inappropriate and completely motivated by profit. In July I asked the US Department of Education, the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education and WASC (our accrediting agency) to look into my concerns.  Since that time, the school and its parent company EDMC have escalated the pressure on me to select a book for a class I teach that I don't think requires one.”

As of now, the school has not released a statement regarding Mike Tracy or his firing.

Do you think Tracy should have gone along with the policy to keep his job, or are his efforts a glimpse of what’s necessary for for-profit schools to finally change their ways?

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com