The CSU and UC systems were sued Monday by students demanding refunds of campus fees after campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and operations moved online.
The university systems have allegedly been profiting from the pandemic by refusing to reimburse students for services that are no longer available to them, according to Matthew Miller, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Students are urging universities to address refund concerns, especially due to the UC system’s endowment of $21 billion and the CSU system’s endowment of $2 billion, according to the complaints filed in federal court in California.
The UC Office of the President declined to comment.
“That money belongs to the students,” Miller alleged in an email. “Through these lawsuits, we encourage CSU and UC to reconsider their positions and make more fair, legal, and empathetic decisions for their students and their families.”
With the shutdown of many in-person classes and student services for the remainder of the academic year, many students moved back home. According to UC Davis student and plaintiff Claire Brandmeyer in the lawsuit, however, the UC system has not given refunds to students for the services she claims are no longer being utilized, in addition to not refunding any lingering campus fees.
According to Miller, the involvement of legal action stems from the realization that students and families were allegedly “not being treated fairly” by their schools. As schools and colleges began to shut down campuses, students were given little to no reimbursement, leaving many students and families “understandably upset,” Miller said.
Noel Garcia, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, alleged that cases such as these ultimately come down to the university systems doing the “right thing.” It becomes “improper” for institutions to try to retain millions of dollars in aggregate campus fees at the expense of their students, Garcia alleged.
Garcia also said the teams representing the plaintiffs are ultimately seeking more effort from both university systems to achieve equity, justice and transparency.
“Higher education is expensive enough as it is, and for the schools to refuse these refunds is unacceptable at any time, and unconscionable during this crisis. These universities have multi-million- or billion-dollar endowments to sustain them,” Miller alleged in an email. “Students and their families do not have the same resources and it is not their responsibility to bail the schools out.”
According to Miller, the trial’s end will depend on different factors, including whether schools will ultimately offer reimbursements. Miller said he hopes, especially in this time of crisis, the campuses will not make their families and students wait any longer.
“Our goal is to get the students’ their money back and that’s what we intend to do, no matter how long that takes,” Miller said in the email.