NORMAL — Two Illinois State University students are suing the board of trustees claiming they were given inadequate refunds after the campus essentially shut down and moved classes online because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the requested class-action status is granted, millions of dollars could be at stake.
ISU is not alone in facing lawsuits over refunds related to changes made in response to COVID-19.
According to media reports, at least 100 institutions are being sued over refunds related to changes caused by the pandemic. They include the University of Missouri system, University of Florida system, Michigan State University, Brown University, the University of Colorado system and Purdue University.
Some, such as the lawsuit against ISU, are seeking larger refunds of student fees.
Others, such as the suit against the University of Missouri system, are seeking tuition refunds, claiming the switch to distance learning resulted in a “diminished educational experience.”
The suit against ISU was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Peoria. It claims ISU “has provided inadequate and/or arbitrary reimbursement for mandatory student fees that fund campus activities and services that defendant (ISU) is no longer providing.”
The lawsuit said students were charged $92.28 per credit hour in mandatory fees and received refunds of $12 per credit hour.
The fees are used for general activities, athletics, Redbird Arena, Bone Student Center, recreational facilities, health and wellness, instructional support and campus enhancements.
“As a matter of course, Illinois State University does not normally provide comment on pending litigation,” said ISU spokesman Eric Jome. However, he shared the information the university has provided to students and parents who asked about the rationale for fee refunds.
The university told students and parents, “In response to COVID-19, Illinois State University made the decision to provide students with prorated refunds for fees for the Spring 2020 semester. In refunding approximately $3 million in total fees to students, the university considered which services were still being offered to students through alternative means, such as counseling and health services, and ongoing infrastructure costs funded by fees. The university strives to provide fair refunds for all of its students in this challenging time.”
Jome said Illinois State has refunded approximately $20 million in housing, dining, parking, and student fees.
The two students named in the suit, filed by a Chicago law firm Stephan Zouras LLP, are Bailey Thiele and Jack Moylan. Both were freshmen during spring semester, with Thiele taking 15 credit hours and Moylan taking 12 credit hours.
The lawsuit claims they — and other students who would be part of the class action — “lost the benefits of the educational and experiential services for which their mandatory fees were paid” and received inadequate refunds.
The lawsuit noted that “a significant portion of ISU’s marketing focuses on the on-campus experience students receive as members of the Redbird community.”
ISU extended spring break after the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization and moved to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester in response to COVID-19. Summer classes also are taking place online.
No decision has been announced for how classes will be conducted this fall. President Larry Dietz has said the most likely scenario is “something in the middle” between a full return to normal and all classes being online.
Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota
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