Loyola joined the list of universities grappling with lawsuits in the wake of wide-spread campus closures due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A Loyola undergraduate student’s mother, Andreea Gociman, filed a class action complaint against Loyola University Chicago May 26 asking the federal courts to require Loyola to provide partial refunds after students lost access to on-campus resources when in-person classes quickly transitioned online in March.
Gociman declined to comment and her attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment. Loyola officials didn’t comment on the issue.
Loyola’s campuses closed March 19 — a week after students were first told to leave residence halls and professors were told to move classes online, The Phoenix reported. Most campus buildings closed March 20, The Phoenix reported.
Since then, Loyola offered students partial refunds of room and board fees and student development fees — which pay for certain on-campus services — in April but it hasn’t refunded any tuition money or other fees, according to the university’s website.
Gociman’s federal class action complaint was filed in the North District of Illinois on behalf of “all similarly situated individuals” described as other Loyola students and their families. About 17,000 students attended Loyola during the 19-20 academic year, according to its website.
In class action lawsuits, the judge’s decision applies to the entire group of affected people defined as the “class” in the lawsuit. However, a complaint isn’t certified as a class action until later in the process at which point those included in the “class” will be notified and can choose to opt-out.
The complaint filed by Gociman argues the university should refund “a significant part” of students’ tuition in addition to the already refunded room and board payments and fees because students didn’t have access to the resources they were promised at the time of enrollment and paid for in tuition. These resources include campus buildings and facilities, equipment, technology and in-person internships and classes.
“Defendant is thus profiting from COVID-19, asking students and their families—many of whom have been laid off, become ill, lost loved ones, or are otherwise suffering significantly—to bear the financial brunt of the pandemic,” the lawsuit stated.
Undergraduate tuition cost $22,065 per semester for the 19-20 school year excluding fees and undergraduate room and board payments can cost anywhere from about $7,400 to $14,680 depending on the building, according to Loyola’s website.
Loyola’s website includes phrases specifically promoting the on-campus experience which students weren’t able to receive during the last four months of the 19-20 spring semester, the lawsuit notes.
In addition to losing access to an on-campus experience and resources, the complaint argues Loyola provided a “dramatically lower quality and less valuable education” as the university quickly transitioned online in March.
“In addition to being denied tangible benefits, Loyola students were forced into online ‘classes’ that were nowhere close in quality to the on-campus courses in which they had enrolled for the Spring 2020 semester,” the complaint said. “Rather, these classes were watered-down, overpriced substitutes that were shoehorned at the last minute into an online format.”
The complaint includes three counts. The first count — breach of contract — alleges the university broke its contract by not providing students the education they initially promised to provide.
The second and third counts — restitution based on quasi-contract and conversion — argue Loyola has an unspoken contract to provide the services and resources the student or family paid for regardless of what the written words of the contracts signed at enrollment say.
In order for the case to move forward, at least one of these counts has to be determined to have merit by a judge. A count has merit if what’s accused is against the law.
Other public and private schools across the country are facing similar lawsuits. Nearby at DePaul University two students filed a complaint also requesting partial tuition refunds.
Decisions made by other judges in similar court cases in Illinois — such as dismissing a similar case or deciding a similar count has merit — can impact the legal decisions in the complaint against Loyola. Other cases playing out across the country might not impact the case in a legal way but other universities’ experiences could still have an effect on the way Loyola responds.
A spokeswoman from DePaul University told The DePaulia — the university’s student newspaper — the lawsuit “attempts to take advantage of the difficult decisions DePaul University made to save lives.” She also said the university has taken “unprecedented measures” to help students during the pandemic, although these didn’t include tuition refunds.
Like Loyola, DePaul University refunded housing and meal plan charges for students in residence halls. Unlike Loyola, DePaul University also canceled next year’s planned tuition increase and gave students the option to drop their spring quarter classes with a full refund, according to The DePaulia.