UW grad student seeks repayment for tuition, fees paid during COVID closure

Sep 17, 2020, 5:27 AM | Updated: 7:31 am
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Students at the University of Washington in March 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The University of Washington, its board of regents, and its president have been hit with a lawsuit over the response to the pandemic.

The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court on Wednesday demands repayment of tuition and fees that the university continued to collect after closing the campus and moving to online classes due to COVID-19.

“Despite sending students home, transitioning to online instruction, and closing its campuses, University of Washington continued to charge for tuition and/or fees as if nothing changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students,” the complaint reads.

The plaintiff — a grad student at UW — says he paid the university for “opportunities and services that he did not receive, including on-campus education, facilities, services, and activities.”

Hagens Berman, the law firm representing the student, has brought similar lawsuits against other universities across the country for failure to repay tuition-payers for their losses.

“Our Seattle-based law firm includes many individuals who call UW their alma mater, and while we understand the unforeseen limitations the pandemic has placed on institutions of higher learning, we believe UW’s community and its students deserve better,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney for students in the class action. “It is our hope that through this litigation, UW can come to recognize its responsibility for tuition-payers and the ways in which it has failed to deliver what it promised them.”

UW plans to have students back on campus, in dorms this fall

In response, UW says it had to cancel in-person classes to comply with state orders, and that students have been allowed to reconsider their enrollment without penalty. Additionally, the university says that the pandemic-related changes and online learning have led to greater costs for the school.

Victor Balta, UW’s Senior Director of Media Relations, sent the following statement to KIRO Radio:

We understand and share the frustration and disappointment that students and their families are experiencing as we navigate the unprecedented limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic required an immediate shift to online instruction for the final two weeks of the winter quarter. The move to largely remote operations was consistent with orders from the Governor restricting the types of activities that were allowable at institutions of higher education and elsewhere, in the interest of public health and safety. The University was clear in its communications with students and their families that the entire spring quarter, summer sessions – and the coming fall quarter – would continue to require that the vast majority of classes and experiences would be remote, providing students time to reconsider their enrollment without penalty. The University will not provide any comment on pending litigation.

The move to online instruction has actually increased our investment in instructional costs. We continue to pay faculty and staff for their work, and at the same time are making existing and new services available online and investing in new technological capabilities as we serve students remotely and support the UW community in these extraordinary times.

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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UW grad student seeks repayment for tuition, fees paid during COVID closure