Campus Reform | Oregon students sue over tuition and fees during COVID. University claims it did nothing wrong.

Oregon students sue over tuition and fees during COVID. University claims it did nothing wrong.

Students in Oregon are suing their universities over unused tuition and fees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Caine Smith accused the University of Oregon of charging students for services they could not use during the coronavirus pandemic.

Three more students sued Oregon State University under similar pretenses.

The flagship public university of the state of Oregon is being sued for allegedly overcharging its students during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a complaint filed in Multnomah County on Friday. 

On March 19, the University of Oregon became the defendant in a $10 million class-action lawsuit filed by Caine Smith, whose complaint alleges that the university charged him and other students for "services they are not being provided, events they cannot attend, and programs and activities that have been curtailed, discontinued, or closed." 

"Oregon is thus profiting from COVID-19 while further burdening students and their families --many of whom have been laid off, become ill, lost loved ones, or are otherwise already bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic," the complaint says, "This lawsuit seeks disgorgement and monetary damages in the amount of prorated unused amounts of tuition and fees that [Smith] and other Class members paid." 

[RELATED: Colleges closed many campus services during pandemic...but still charged students for them] 

The suit also accuses the university of refusing to treat its students "fairly, equitably, and as required by the law," adding that its conduct fell below institutions like Northwestern University and Georgetown University, which, it claims, already refunded part or all of their students' payments for the fall 2020 semester. 

University of Oregon spokesperson Saul Hubbard said the students' lawsuit is "wrong on the law and wrong on the facts." 

"We are not surprised that the class action law firm that has sued dozens of other universities on this topic would add the University of Oregon to their list," he told the Daily Emerald, "Despite the enormous challenges presented by a once in a generation pandemic, the value of an education at the University of Oregon remains unchanged."

[RELATED: Party's canceled: Colleges axe spring break amid lingering pandemic fears]

As Campus Reform has reported before, many undergraduate students don't seem to think that the value of college was "unchanged" during the coronavirus pandemic. On January 11, Anna Seballos sued her school, Rice University, for $5 million, alleging that shuttering the university indefinitely deprived students of the "college experience they paid for." And in February, Zoe Kunhart said that online courses cause poor academic performance. 

"The online education that I have experienced during the past academic year pales in comparison to the in-person learning that we received before," said Kunhart, who circulated a petition asking her university to reopen or lower its tuition and fees, "I think that I can speak for the majority of the student body when I say that I feel behind in almost every aspect of my education because of online learning." 

On March 5, the law firm representing students suing the University of Oregon filed a similar lawsuit accusing Oregon State University in Corvallis of profiting from the pandemic by refusing to lower the cost of allegedly inferior online instruction. 

[RELATED: Towson cuts fall sports, but not athletics fee?]

"The online classes Plaintiffs and their peers have been provided are not the same as the in-person, campus experience that Plaintiffs and other OSU students chose for their university," wrote attorneys from Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP, "the tuition and fees that Defendants charged were predicated on access to...and feedback from peers, mentors, professors, and guest lecturers." 

Steve Berman, one of the attorneys representing students in both lawsuits, said undergraduates pay for and deserve the complete college experience.

"College students pay universities for libraries, gyms, campus facilities, activities, in-person access to professors and other hands-on experiences. The University of Oregon, we believe, has unfairly continued to charge tuition payers for all of the things they were not allowed to experience and use during the COVID-10 campus closure and switch to online classes." 

[RELATED: UOregon nets millions each year from mandatory athletics fee. Less than half of students even attend games.]

Campus Reform asked a University of Oregon official to comment on this story. This article will be updated accordingly. 

Follow the author of this article: Dion J. Pierre