Ever plunked down big bucks for all the overpriced textbooks a professor says are mandatory, only to find that you didn't actually need to buy every one? It's a common scenario and most college students appreciate a teacher who's looking for ways to deliver a quality education without requiring them to make unnecessary book purchases. Unfortunately, in the case of Mike Tracy, a highly-regarded animator who'd been teaching at the Art Institute of California-Orange County for the past 11 years, refusing to make students buy an e-book they don't need may have cost him his job.
Tracy posted on his Facebook page that he's "been in a dispute" with the school for several months "over their policy of mandatory e-textbooks in classes where their inclusion seems arbitrary, inappropriate and completely motivated by profit." Indeed, the national chain of more than 50 Art Institute schools is owned by Education Management Corporation—Goldman Sachs has a 41 percent stake in the company—which only uses e-books offered through a virtual imprint called Digital Bookshelf, which is run by EDMC's distributor, VitalSource.
Art Institute requires students to pay a $50-$75 fee to download a temporary copy of the e-textbook from the Digital Bookshelf. Even if they want to buy a hard copy of the text, they still have to fork over the money for a digital version. The policy effectively funnels even more money in EDMC's pockets on top of the thousands of dollars students are already paying in tuition.
Ed Hooks, the author of the popular textbook Acting for Animators, told Cartoon Brew that he was contacted by an instructor from an Art Institute campus in Texas who told Hooks that the AI school chain "had established a new textbook policy" that "going forward, all text books must be e-books." Hooks' text is available as an e-book, but because his editor didn't want to work with VitalSource, AI instructors aren't allowed to use it anymore. EDMC's Faculty Federation expressed their anger of EDMC's textbook policy back in April, saying that the textbook policy gives EDMC "sole discretion over what e-books are used, compromising faculty independence and expertise in choosing best resources for class."
While EDMC's policy may just seem like the shady shenanigans of one chain of schools, it's not too hard to imagine that similar back-scratching textbook deals could happen—or might already be happening—at some of the nation's public and private colleges and universities. If they're allowed to go unchecked, more students could be forced to buy books they don't need or learn from sub-par ones. As for Tracy, his students banded together and launched a Change.org petition demanding that the Art Institute of California-Orange County keep their beloved instructor on staff and give him the academic freedom he needs.