California State University (CSU) students sued the CSU system April 27 in a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by students calling for refunds of mandatory fees for on-campus services. The suit results from campus closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The University of California system was also sued in a separate class-action lawsuit.
Sonoma State University student Akayla Miller filed the complaint on behalf of students enrolled in the spring 2020 semester who “lost the benefits of the services for which their fees were paid, without having a pro-rated portion of those fees and costs refunded to them, in full and without condition.”
The complaint alleges the CSU system encouraged students to move off campus in light of the pandemic, and as such, students should receive fee refunds for any unused portions of campus fees. Further, the complaint states because the CSU system has not offered to issue refunds to students, “CSU is, in essence, profiting from this pandemic.”
Mike Uhlenkamp, senior director of public affairs for the CSU Chancellor’s Office, refuted the complaint in an April 30 email, stating it “misstates the facts,” asserting that services “such as counseling, advising, faculty office hours, disability student services, and even telehealth medical care” are still being offered remotely.
Benjamin Ha, a first-year transfer business administration and accounting student, agrees that students should receive partial fee refunds for the facilities and services no longer being utilized.
“I get the fees the school collected for us is used to pay for the facilities.… But we can’t use those facilities such as the gym and there aren’t any student activities on campus as well, so why don’t we get a refund for that?” Ha said. “Many students have been financially impacted and the refunds can help students make rent payment, buy food, pay for utilities, and other essential needs. Instead the school is more worried about the paying for the facilities, when the CSU system has money in (its) reserve for economic impacts like this.”
CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White confirmed in an April 6 interview with CalMatters that campus health centers and recreation centers still have mortgages that need to be paid, and therefore, mandatory fees associated with those facilities would not be refunded.
The complaint filed echoes Ha’s concerns. “CSU’s decision to transition to online classes and to instruct students to leave campus were responsible decisions to make, but it is unfair and unlawful for CSU to retain fees and costs and to pass the losses on to the students and/or their families,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit does not specify the amount allegedly owed to students.
Adam Levitt, co-counsel for plaintiffs, stated this information would be determined in the discovery phase.
According to Uhlenkamp, “CSU will vigorously defend against this suit.”
A copy of the full complaint can be viewed at https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6879201/Miller-Akayla-FILED-Complaint-CSU-4-27-2020.pdf.
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