An IU student filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking reimbursement for tuition and fees after the university moved classes online and closed most campus buildings and facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Justin Spiegel, a student from Illinois, brought the suit against the IU Trustees on Wednesday in the Monroe County Circuit Court. IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said in an email that the university is “deeply disappointed” that the lawsuit does not recognize the efforts of faculty, staff and students and instead seeks to “take advantage” of the coronavirus crisis.
The suit hopes to reach class action status, which would represent everyone paying tuition and fees for or on behalf of students enrolled at IU in spring 2020, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that IU’s decision to move classes online in March “was the right thing” to do but deprived students of the “benefits of in-person instruction, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services in exchange for Which they had already paid fees and tuition.”
The lawsuit positions IU among more than 25 universities across the country that are being sued for allegedly failing to provide the educational experience students paid for.
Spiegel’s lawyers note that since classes moved online, not all are being taught live. Some instructors are uploading recorded lectures or written assignments, straying from the in-person interactions, discussions and learning opportunities expected for an in-person degree.
The “true college experience” students anticipated includes access to facilities, participation in extracurriculars, social development, hands-on learning, networking and in-person interactions with professors, mentors and peers, according to the complaint.
Spiegel's BS in informatics costs $10,948 in tuition and fees for Indiana residents and $36,512 for nonresidents for the 2019-20 school year alone. The same degree through IU’s online program would cost a total of $30,000 for Indiana residents and $42,000 for nonresidents, according to the complaint.
“Even before COVID-19, Defendant placed value on remote education as being worth between 18% and 71% less than that same education being taught on campus,” the complaint concludes.
Spiegel’s lawyers argue in the complaint that the university should repay students accordingly.
Daniel Hickey, a professor with the Learning Sciences program in IU’s School of Education, previously told the Indiana Daily Student that comparing IU’s tuition to the costs of universities that typically operate completely online would be misguided.
Programs designed to operate completely online are usually not interactive and wouldn’t use Zoom meetings, online discussion forums or instructor support like IU courses, he said.
In fact, there are several reasons why costs would rise amid the online transition to account for increased resources such as instructor support and educational consultants.
But IU offered several discounts for students taking summer classes, which will be conducted online.
The university will offer summer classes per credit and decrease mandatory fees by 20%, Carney said. Students will receive a 10% discount if they take 12 or more credit hours during the summer.
IU also removed the late schedule fee and late registration fee for summer classes. The late schedule fee would usually cost students $8.60 per day to adjust their schedule two days after their initial registration. The late registration fee would cost students at least $60.
The complaint alleges that the only difference between these discounts and IU’s decision to not discount online classes for the spring semester is that IU already collected spring tuition, and students have not yet paid for summer classes.
IU received $12 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to provide eligible students with emergency funding to help with financial hardships caused by the pandemic, according to a Division of Student Affairs website. Students can also apply for donor funds from the university.
“In the midst of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our entire way of life, Indiana University has acted responsibly to keep our students safe and progressing in their education,” Carney said.
One of the attorneys representing Spiegel is involved in another lawsuit filed against the university after mold was found in residence halls across campus in the 2018-2019 school year. That case received class action certification in January, and IU is appealing the decision. Thousands of students could receive compensation from the lawsuit pending the result of the case.