Animation teacher faces the sack for refusing to push "unnecessary, expensive" textbooks at hedge-fund invested Art Institute of California

Mike Tracy teaches at the Art Institute of California—Orange County, but not for long. In a note on his Facebook page, Tracy explains that AIC-OC (whose parent company, EDMC, is 41 percent owned by Goldman Sachs) has told him he'll be fired if he doesn't agree to sell a quota of expensive and, in his opinion, unnecessary e-textbooks.

Here's the note Tracy posted:

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.

Today, the President of the school, Greg Marick, presented me with an ultimatum; either choose a book by Tuesday, Aug 14th or the company will terminate my employment for insubordination. My response, of course, is that I will not change my mind on this issue and that I’m determined to resist the policy however I can. I think this means that, as of this week, I will no longer be teaching at AI.

I want you, my students and colleagues to know that it has been my great honor and privilege to have worked with you over the last 11 years, and that I will miss the opportunity to work for you and with you. I have enjoyed my time as a teacher very much, but it appears as though it is now time to move on. Furthermore, you can count on me to continue the struggle that I have instigated on this issue, if only from the outside. Although it aint over till it’s over, it looks like a 99.5% deal, barring an 11th hour change of heart by the corporation, which would surprise me.

Here's a petition from Tracy's colleagues and present and past students, asking the administration to reconsider its position.

Animation Teacher Faces Termination For Refusing To Sell His Students Unnecessary Books (via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Robot, Mike Tracy)


  1. Had a related experience at the Art Institute of Vancouver. We were told that we had a textbook expense for one for our classes. They said we had to pay $100 for access to two “digital textbooks” for a class in typography. The teacher never mentioned them in class.

    One of my many gripes about the Art Institutes. The teachers were good, the system is bad.

    1.  I applied and while the whole thing was more expensive than I could afford, I was shocked by the dumb stuff that came in the enrollment package like an ipod and maybe some shirts.

      1. Not knowing the American College application system, but does this mean that you get a free ipod for applying? or on their acceptance?
        Is this a way to profit from applications to for profit colleges do you pay just to apply as well?
        My first thought was”Free Ipod, i might appply under 5 different names”

        1.  No, you had to pay a separate couple hundred extra for this package of crap like art supplies and software too (I think).

          Also being a ‘private’ for profit college they let in anybody who could pay for that semester (as opposed to all two/four years). From what I understand the drop out rate is very high.

    1. And you think “non-profit” traditional schools don’t similarly rip students off?

      Google e-textbooks and prices and you’ll see that the same scam is emerging in many places.

      It has been my experience that “non-profit” traditional schools simply convert what would otherwise be somebody’s “profit” and turn it into somebody’s “salary”.

      Slam on Art Institute, Phoenix, etc. all you want – but don’t labor under the illusion that traditional, “non-profit” schools are any less whores.

      They just have better PR from the ignorant.

      Hopefully the internet is helping to change that.

      1.  I agree that textbook publishers are egregious rip-off artists (no pun intended) at any kind of college (though I don’t agree with you that non-profit colleges are at all like ones that are run only to make money). I’m always trying to find ways to reduce the cost of books for my students (eg, letting them buy recent used editions – the differences between editions are usually miniscule). The most recent course I taught used an e-book available free from the National Academies Press, which by the way has a bunch of free books that we have already paid for with our tax dollars – the one I used was:

        But what blew my mind here was the idea that the administration could dictate to an instructor what teaching materials to use. If I were in this teacher’s place, I would also leave, and make as big a stink about it as possible.

  2. Signed!
    My wife was forced to buy an ipod or iphone for her nursing school, even though the pre-loaded textbook it came with was still being printed. >:[

  3. That’s a noble act, but to a certain extent all of human civilization rests on arrangements of this sort. You just gotta decide at what point it become egregious, so much so that Something Must Be Done.

    Does this arrangement fall into this category? Maybe, maybe not, I dunno.

    1. People are going to die anyway. May as well grind them into meat pies when they’re young and fresh. Who’s to say this is wrong? I dunno. There are so many opinions.

      1. They more or less covered that in an episode of Sliders once.  Turns out wisdom isn’t something easily taught.

          1. No, that show in the 90s where the kid slides between parallel worlds and the traffic lights are all backwords, etc.

      2. I’m going to go with the “We’re all going to die, it’s true, but I’m going to do my best to minimize human suffering” option.


        (Well, now that Goldman & Sachs is a person, I don’t really care if he/she suffers a bit)

    2. “Is this another case of reinforcing the status quo, or is it just something that should simply be accepted?” Reasonable minds will differ.

    3. You just gotta decide at what point it become egregious, so much so that Something Must Be Done.

      Why, certainly.  And Mike Tracy decided that it’s passed that point, and many people seem to agree.  So your specific point was… ?

  4. i work at a related school that shall remain unnamed.

    to make this relevant, they just cut our library in half.  like, physically.  this is what our storage space (what little we have left) looks like these days.

    to say that i has a sad would be putting it rather mildly.  this seems to be the direction They (ee dee em cee) want us to go in.

  5. This teacher is doing a terrible job of showing his students how to go into debt for things they don’t need. They’ll never make it in the real world with that kind of role model.

  6. There’s some meat to be had in exploring the deliberate erosion of text book resale value, even as prices in the primary market incline, as well.

    Essentially, publishers are using a combination of serialization and sales schemes like this one to move more and more of the value inherit in the book away from the end user and into their own pockets.

    These two tactics conspire to exponentially increase the cost of learning.

    1. Captive market with an artificially created demand, and you control the supply…well that’s Econ 101.

  7. The teacher should decide which, if any, study material is relevant to the course. I mean…That is like a doctor shilling meds for Pharm Corps. even though the patient doesn’t really need it.  How ridiculous is that!

  8.  Ugh. I can’t imagine how hideously expensive healthcare would become if providers were rewarded for ordering unnecessary procedures.



  9. For profit schools are plentiful and varied on the late night channels. The amount of advertising that they’re doing is almost on par as to what those ‘no money down’ mortgage companies were doing in 2005. And that scares me.

    It scares me more how many young & naive people are being suckered into non-accredited programs or into “industries” that have no future for them.

    And you “Have” to buy a book for a class? RED FLAG!

    1. I can see being required to buy a textbook as being a reasonable requirement (though getting it used should be an option).  I knew people who used texts from the library for classes in university, but that’s not really ideal because other people have the same idea and it’s difficult to get access to the book when you need it.

      The teacher being told he has to choose a textbook that he thinks is unnecessary, and students must purchase it?  That’s egregious.

      1. There is a huge difference to me between ‘You need to have X book for this class’ and ‘You have to BUY X book FROM US for this class’. One of those is probably about having access to things you need to be educated on. The other is about getting profit from books. 

        While I have never graduated university, I went to a handful of them in the attempt. All were well established, well regarded schools. All had a list of recommended materials, but none of them checked your bags to see if you had them or whatever; it was your problem if you didn’t, and their ‘job’ was to teach you and then test you and if you knew what they were teaching, to accredit that you knew it. Not to make money for their published books. 

  10. Unfortunately the only thing he can do is get the world out that the Art Institute conducts its business like this.  If they want to run their business like this then that is their business, and the company has the right to be like that.  However I think its good to let people know that their school is a for profit place and not student-centered.  As a fellow teacher I feel for him.

  11. I’d try to find a loophole, like making my own eBook for the course and making it available as a free download, but standing up to the unreasonable tyrant is every bit as valid as side-stepping around him.

    1. That’s not a loophole. He’s been ordered to sell a quota of already-chosen books. They’re not asking him to have any input into it, just to pimp a product or GTFO.

      1. Making his own text which would be more relevant to the course and making it available at less cost to students would emphasize that management’s motives are something other than providing quality education.

  12. On a related note – does anybody know if Mike Tracy sells prints of his work?  I love Robot (pictured here), and his series of mice that only sorta look like Mickey is calling out to me.  Checked his website but there’s no mention of a gallery he sells through…

  13. Somebody is just going to upload their curriculum when they get mad enough.
    I guess the key is that they are teaching how to be a technical operator not an artist? I mean if you are learning drawing, are you supposed to have an iPad or laptop open all the time? If you are learning drawing anatomy like Vesalius are you really going to get an idea of the forms from a low-resolution, bright screen? How bizarre. Incidentally I don’t understand how they could sell ebooks for so much year after year. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to pay someone 200K to make a good book and then give it to 20K students for $10 each?

    1. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to pay someone 200K to make a good book and then give it to 20K students for $10 each?

      Their goal isn’t to provide students with educational materials; it’s to make a profit off a captive audience via enforced sales.

      1. As I said above, this is the difference between ‘This book will help you with this class’ and ‘if you don’t buy this book, you don’t get credit’. One is about education. The other is about selling books.

  14. An instructor at a for-profit school being told to sell a quota of a specific textbook is no different than a server being told to sell a quota of specials during the dinner shift. 

    1. I assume most people order the special because they are hungry, not because they are forced to buy it.

    2. And if the people ordering don’t buy that quota of broccoli salmon that evening, what happens?  Would it be appropriate to fire said sever because the clientele that evening didn’t like fish? 

      Is a quota a recommended number of sales you *should* hit or *must* hit? And what if, for example, you’re not there to sell books but to be, I don’t know, a teacher, who wants to educate students and not sell books. Should he be responsible for the bookstore not selling enough sweatshirts as well?

    3. Hi, I’m Pete, I’ll be your server this evening! Our special tonight is a picture of a meal our chef made last week. There are plenty of other options on the menu but I’m going to have to insist that you buy the special, because I have a quota, and pixels are cheaper for our company to supply than actual food. No, you don’t have a choice, you signed a contract when you came in the door that said you would fulfill our ordering requirements, pay our fees, comply when I change your requirements mid-meal, and leave only when we tell you that you can. It’s that, or you get nothing, and we keep the down payment. That’ll be $90,000, up front. Thanks, it’s been a pleasure serving you to my boss!

      Yeah, exactly the same.

  15. Why doesn’t the teachers union (i’m assuming he belongs to one) step up and fight for him?

    1. Teacher’s Union at a for-profit establishment? Please tell me you’re aware of how ridiculous that is. Organized labor is bad for the Bottom Line.

  16. When I was in college (at a regular public school instead of a private for-profit one),  the instructors were forced to choose a textbook to “require”, but they could choose any text they felt like and students were free to buy it from anywhere they wished.  Yeah, the on-campus bookstore made a little extra money off of unnecessary texts (especially from new students with scholarships or kids going on Mom and Dad’s dime who just took their schedule down to the bookstore and the staff made them a stack and they paid for it).  There were a few instructors who made a little extra money selling a text they wrote themselves. There was no provision against that.  Some had authored or co-authored real published college textbooks.  Others self-published paper-back spiral bound type books that met the school’s  rule. But there were a couple that made it clear the first day of class that the recommended text was more “supplemental” and if you’d already bought it at the bookstore, you should return it.  And the other students were always pretty good about telling one another which classes you needed the books for and which you didn’t.  Some classes, if you didn’t have it, you were going to fail.  Some, I re-sold ever so gently used and even completely uncracked books at the end of the semester.  A lot of us learned  to not buy any of the books on the list until after a couple of days of class.  It wasn’t hard to tell which classes were going to use them and which were just meeting the policy to name one. 

    This teacher is right that the policy is clearly not motivated by academic integrity.  But I would think if he’d looked into how that school and other for-profit schools like that one work, he’d have a lot of other issues with them before now.  Those kinds of schools are definitely predatory. 

    1. I’m sure that he has a very good idea of how for-profit schools work and all the shit they pull, since he has worked there for 11 years! This is probably merely the last straw, the thing that finally pushed him to get out of there.

      If I taught a class (I have taught, but as a grad student TA with a provided syllabus) at a not-for-profit school and the school required me to require a textbook, I’d assign either a favorite fiction book of mine or, if that doesn’t pass muster for a science class, then a good non-fiction but non-technical book relating to the subject. Nothing over $15 and I would e-mail the students ahead of time saying they don’t have to buy it. 

      In this case he had to choose from a list of crappy (and probably overpriced) books – just want to make it clear that I know he couldn’t have used my idea :)

  17. I went to this school when it first opened and while I was not an animation major, my many animation friends loved Mike Tracy. While I do think the school will let in anyone that can afford it, that was the only way I could study graphic design without a portfolio, as I was changing careers. There are some great things about the school, and some bad ones as well. It never occurred to me that I might change careers again when I was signing the waiver stating I understood my degree might not be recognized at another school. It’s a shame about Mike, and about mandatory textbook enforcement. Tuition is expensive enough without adding in books and software.

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