Student seeks tuition refunds in class-action lawsuit against the University

Lawsuit alleges that AU failed to uphold its end of the bargain when classes moved online

Student seeks tuition refunds in class-action lawsuit against the University

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

An AU student filed a class-action lawsuit against the University on Friday after AU didn’t refund tuition when classes moved online and students were removed from campus following the coronavirus outbreak. 

AU School of International Service student Maaz Qureshi, who filed his complaint with the U.S. District Court for D.C., is seeking tuition relief for people who paid tuition for University students for the spring semester. 

According to the suit, Qureshi claims that students have been deprived of 42 percent of in-person instruction, activities and on-campus services that were already paid for, and while students upheld “their end of the bargain,” the University failed to do its part. 

Roy Willey, an attorney with the Anastopoulo Law Firm, which is representing Qureshi, told The Eagle in an email that institutions should provide students with some form of relief.

“Colleges and universities are not unlike any other business in America and they too have to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time,” Willey said. “It is not fair to pass the full burden on to students and their families.”

The lawsuit also refers to the CARES Act, a COVID-19 response bill that was signed into law in March. 

AU is being allocated $6,314,017 as a result of the CARES Act, half of which must be put toward emergency financial aid and grants to students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Some of these funds allow universities to reimburse themselves for providing students with refunds for room and board, tuition and other fees, the department said.

AU’s website states that there will be an application process for students to apply for funds through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund put into place by the CARES Act, which will be based on financial need. The University expects the application process to open on May 11. Per federal guidance, international, undocumented, non-degree and non-aid filers are ineligible to recive these funds. 

The suit argues that online classes are not an adequate substitute for in-person classes. 

“Some lectures are simply uploads of pre-recorded videos that do not allow for student/teacher interaction, and a number of classes are simply posting reading assignments with no video instruction at all,” the suit says. 

Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Fanta Aw and AU Provost Dan Myers acknowledged in a statement to students in March that the transition off campus would be difficult. 

“Even though we know it’s necessary, and while our faculty and staff are absolutely dedicated to continuing our core educational commitment to you at the highest level, there is much that you will miss by not being here in person,” the statement said. 

The suit points to AU’s decision to reduce the cost of online summer classes by 10 percent to support Qureshi’s argument for some amount of spring tuition refunds.

The suit also addresses the fact that the University said activity, technology, sports center and U-Pass fees are not eligible for refunds. However, the University offered refunds for a portion of students’ on campus housing, meal plans and parking expenses. 

Anastopoulo Law Firm is involved in a variety of similar class-action lawsuits calling for tuition and fee refunds, Inside Higher Ed reported in April. 

In addition, a lawsuit was filed recently against George Washington University by a parent of a GW student, who also claims that online classes are not as valuable as their in-person counterparts.

“We are reviewing the litigation. Throughout the COVID-19 situation, we have taken unprecedented steps to support our campus community and deliver our robust, high-quality education to students,” AU communications and marketing wrote in an email to The Eagle. “During this time, students continued to have access to our expert faculty and the wide range of academic and support services that are the foundation of our educational mission.”

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

news@theeagleonline.com 

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