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Universities face suits over fees, other payments

A federal lawsuit filed April 30 accuses Boston University of improperly retaining fees and other payments from students after “constructively evicting” students and transitioning to online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a suit filed the following day in U.S. District Court in Boston, a Northeastern graduate student alleges the university breached its contract with students by moving exclusively to online instruction in mid-March because of the pandemic.

“While closing campus and transitioning to online classes was the right thing for Defendants to do, this decision deprived Plaintiff and the other members of the Class from recognizing the benefits of in-person instruction, housing, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services in exchange for which they had already paid fees and tuition,” the plaintiff in the putative class action against BU writes in the complaint.

The plaintiff in that suit says that Boston University has either refused to provide reimbursement for the tuition, housing, fees and other costs related to services that the university is no longer providing, or has provided inadequate or arbitrary reimbursement that does not fully compensate the proposed class members for their loss.

The complaint highlights BU’s $2.3 billion endowment as well as the relief the school is eligible to receive via the CARES Act.

The plaintiff notes that BU markets as a benefit of enrollment the “on-campus experience,” which includes face-to-face interactions with professors and peers, along with access to facilities.

BU President Robert A. Brown has acknowledged in a statement that learning through virtual technology is not the same as in-person, hands-on learning, the plaintiff says.

As a result of being moved off campus, named plaintiff Julia Dutra, a New Jersey resident studying film and television at BU, and others similarly situated no longer have the benefit of the services for which they have paid fees, such as a community services fee intended to support student organizations, programs and services; a student services fee intended to support access to computer labs, libraries, and technology resources; and a health-and-wellness fee intended to cover access to campus health centers, recreation centers, and gyms.

In addition to retaining such fees improperly, the complaint calls the formula BU established for refunding housing costs “unfair and insufficient.”

The suit proposes the creation of three subclasses: a “tuition class,” for all students who were “forced to use online distance learning platforms” that were a poor substitute for in-person instruction; a “fees class”; and an “on-campus housing class.”

The complaint asks the court to order BU to disgorge funds it is improperly retaining, among other relief.

 

 

Unlike the suit against BU, the lawsuit against Northeastern brought by Canada resident Man chung “Manny” Chong, who is seeking a master’s degree in counseling psychology, does not specifically allege that the school has improperly retained certain categories of fees related to on-campus activities and amenities.

Instead, the complaint seeks to certify a class of all Northeastern University students who paid tuition and attended one or more courses in-person for credit on a Northeastern campus during the spring semester.

The suit seeks “an amount to be determined by a jury at trial of this matter.”

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