Mike Tracy, Animation Professor Fired for Rants Against e-Books, Sues Art Institute of OC

A veteran professor at The Art Institute of California-Orange County is suing that for-profit college and its owners for allegedly firing him because he objected to a mandatory e-book policy that charged students $50 to $75 more for courses that required such books, even if they were never used in classes. Terrence Michael Tracy alleges employer retaliation, wrongful termination and emotional distress in the Orange County Superior Court complaint against Education Management Corp., The Art Institute of California and Argosy University of California.

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Better known as Mike Tracy at the Santa Ana school where he taught in the Game Art, Media Art, and Animation Department for 11½ years, he is seeking lost wages and benefits as well as punitive damages. No dollar amount is set in the complaint he filed with the help of his lawyer, Geniene Stillwell of Laguna Beach.

Tracy claims electronic versions of textbooks were introduced in 2010, as was the mandatory e-book policy, although it was not really explained to professors and their students, according to Tracy. But he found out all about it in January, when brass informed him he had to use an e-book from a list the school provided in his Background and Layout Design animation course.

This proved problematic to students, who suddenly had e-books foisted on them, and Tracy, who had never used them in that course, according to his complaint.

In fact, he didn't use textbooks in that animation class at all because it is such an ever-changing field. He argues in his complaint that to use an e-book that would essentially be out of date by the time classes started amounts to providing sub-par educational materials.

When he learned of the e-book fees were automatically tacked onto students' tuition payments he became incensed because he found it an unnecessary charge and the Art Institute supposedly allows students to shop elsewhere for books, according to the suit.

Tracy claims that when he stated his objections to his bosses, up to and including Art Institute Orange County President Greg Marick, he was ignored. So he turned to governmental agencies like the U.S. Department of Education and accrediter the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, cc'ing Marick and his supervisor, Tom Baker. His suit states each administrator approached him in August about using the e-book anyway.

A couple days later, Tracy claims, he was summoned to the Human Resources office, where he was handed a document threatening him with dismissal for not complying with the e-book policy. The professor says he re-stated his objections, adding that he believed forcing the unnecessary e-books on students was a money-making device and constituted fraud. He left the meeting so sure he'd be fired he said so in a Facebook post.

Tracy was fired four days later on grounds he mischaracterized the e-book policy on Facebook, something my former colleague Yasmin Nouh reported at the time. She added that  senior Justin Nouget launched a Change.org petition calling on the institute to reverse its stance on Tracy and mandatory textbooks and that at that time it had collected 2,598 signatures.

The lawsuit claims 4,700 students and supporters wound up signing the petition urging his reinstatement.

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