SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - A longtime professor claims in court that the Art Institute of California fired him for objecting to its mandatory e-book policy, which charges students $50 to $75 more for courses that use e-books, many of which are not suitable for texts.
Terrence Michael Tracy sued Education Management Corp. and affiliates, The Art Institute of California - Orange County, and Argosy University of California, in Orange County Superior Court.
Tracy says he was a professor in Art Institute's Game Art, Media Art, and Animation Department at Santa Ana for 11½ years.
In 2010, Tracy says, the school began introducing electronic versions of textbooks, through a "mandatory e-book policy."
"As a relatively new and still developing policy, its terms and conditions were not well-understood or well publicized, such that professors (including plaintiff) and students alike often did not fully understand the effects of the e-book policy or its negative implications or consequences from an educational perspective," the complaint states.
In January this year, Tracy says, the Art Institute told him he had to use an e-book in his Background and Layout Design animation course, and had to choose from a list of texts selected by the school.
"Plaintiff was concerned by this notification that his course had been selected for compulsory participation in defendants' e-book program," the complaint states. "Plaintiff had taught the course for more than a decade without the use of an officially published textbook. Plaintiff had never previously designated a textbook for the course because, in the rapidly and ever-evolving field of digital animation, which increasingly relied on cutting-edge technical developments in the larger field of computers and computer science, no published textbook adequately addressed the subject matter of the course. Available published textbooks often suffered from a lack of comprehensive teaching of the subject matter; a failure to remain relevant, containing out-of-date materials, techniques, or approaches, due to rapid and continuous developments in the field; or a failure to provide practical and/or theoretical educational content that would adequately prepare students for careers in the field. Thus, in plaintiff's professional and academic opinion, none of the available published textbooks for the course were productive, useful, or appropriate for the students.
"Concerned about being compelled to select inadequate and/or subpar educational materials for his course in the form of a mandatory e-book and, more generally, about the ramifications of a widespread compulsory e-book policy not only for the teachers but more importantly for the students, plaintiff began to further research and investigate the specifics of defendants' e-book program.
Tracy says he found that students taking courses requiring an e-book were charged $50 for an "electronic resources fee," and $75 if the course required two e-books.
"Students were not allowed to opt out of the automatic fee, which was charged to their tuition accounts without further notice," the complaint states.
Tracy claims this policy prevents students from buying their books elsewhere, a right guaranteed in the student handbook.
"Plaintiff believed this was particularly detrimental to the students because, in the majority of cases, the same texts were available for purchase from other sources at prices significantly lower than $50, such that students were seemingly being forced to participate in an unfair price gouging scheme aimed solely at maximizing defendants' profits at the students' expense.