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BU student says online learning sucks; wants a refund

A Boston University sophomore and her father have sued Boston University to demand they be reimbursed a chunk of her tuition because she's been forced to endure a "second-rate online substitute" since the school shut its campus in March due to Covid-19.

Of course, one does not get represented by law firms in three separate states just for one's single-semester tuition; in their complaint, filed in US District Court in Boston yesterday, Natalie and Vallauina Silulu of Boxborough are seeking to become lead plaintiffs in a class action worth more than $5 million against BU to represent as many as 40,000 people. The same three law firms also represent a Northeastern graduate student who also filed a similar complaint against his school yesterday (see the attached files below).

The complaint charges BU has managed to actually profit from coronavirus while screwing students out of both tuition that is now paying for inferior classes and the fees they paid for access to campus facilities they are now barred from.. And then there's the $15 million in federal CARE funds BU is eligible for, only half of which would have to be doled out to students with serious financial needs.

Despite failing to fulfill its obligations, Defendant is currently unlawfully retaining and refusing to fully or partially refund Plaintiffs’ Spring 2020 semester tuition and fees, despite the dramatically lower quality and less valuable education and services now being provided.

Essentially, students have paid Defendant for high-quality, in-person instruction that is no longer available to them, access to buildings they can no longer enter, technology, programs and services that Defendant is no longer providing, and activities that are no longer available. Defendant 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 result is an enormous windfall to Defendant. Both contract and equity demand that Defendant disgorge its ill-gotten funds.

The complaint adds:

The online classes Plaintiff Natalie Silulu and her peers have been provided are not equivalent to and are worse than, the in-person, campus experience that Plaintiff and other BU students chose for their university education. The tuition and fees that Defendant charged were predicated on access to and constant interaction with and feedback from peers, mentors, professors, and guest lecturers; access to technology, libraries, and laboratories; opportunities to attend or participate in spectator sports and athletic programs; access to student government and health services; and participation in extracurricular groups and learning, among other things.

Although only Natalie is a BU student, her father says he signed on as a plaintiff because he has a financial stake in the issue - has agreed to pay back her student loans for her once she graduates.

In addition to being named lead plaintiffs, the Silulus are seeking refunds on spring-semester tuition and fees, plus damages and attorney's fees.

Earlier:
Northeastern grad student sues school because coronavirus-spurred online education is inferior to classroom learning.

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Comments

If I am hiring someone for a job, and I do a basic background check and google their name "Natalie Silulu" and I see this case come up?

That resume goes in the trash can before I even read where she got her degree from (online or in person)

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I am your father.

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friar, not this Luke

You'd make a poor employer if you hire those who settle for mediocrity.

Why should she not demand the value of her tuition? These schools rake in upwards of $40-50K per student, virtually tax free, on the backs of government-backed, often-crippling student debt.

But yeah, let's feel for these poor, poor universities. There's gonna be a huge awakening come the Fall.

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But this is a unique situation where everyone is trying to do their best and making sure everyone is healthy, safe, and alive. The plaintiff here doesn’t want to hear it and wants what is owed to her.

Just very selfish, callous and disgusting in my opinion.

Bottom line is she doesn’t have to go there and doesn’t have to pay anything if she doesn’t want to. We don’t have to make this more than what it is.

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Might strike people as callous but I expect other types of consumers who didn’t receive the product they were promised will be in good standing to pursue similar legal options if they no refund is forthcoming.

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Do I get a refund on my real estate taxes because I had to stay home from work and teach my kids?

Wait, I want to sue the City of Boston because in my contract I’m entitled doctor’s visits in person and I’m denied them so let me sue the City of Boston.

I had Celtics tickets for tonight....and my favorite player isn’t going to be on the team next year so I’m suing the Celtics.

My grocery store? Those bastards made me wait 15 minutes and didn’t have any pop tarts left. I’m suing Roche Brothers.

Seriously though (this was discussed in the NU thread) we are taking about possibly 2 months of online classes and probable inflated grades and we want a refund?? Just silly imo

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Do I get a refund on my real estate taxes because I had to stay home from work and teach my kids?

you might feel entitled to such if the city failed to perform tasks like garbage collection for a few months. it’s my hunch that many people would actually be sympathetic to that position.

Wait, I want to sue the City of Boston because in my contract I’m entitled doctor’s visits in person and I’m denied them so let me sue the City of Boston.

well, did you pay for these visits in advance? maybe you should call your insurance provider? i’ve heard lots of examples of them giving breaks on premiums.

I had Celtics tickets for tonight....and my favorite player isn’t going to be on the team next year so I’m suing the Celtics.

this is kinda invalidated by the legalese on your ticket that says your favorite player may not appear under normal circumstances anyways.

My grocery store? Those bastards made me wait 15 minutes and didn’t have any pop tarts left. I’m suing Roche Brothers.

again, did you pay for your pop tarts in advance?

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But I will admit there is a lot I don't know about contracts students sign with colleges. I think my main issue is that I would have a problem if my neighbor sued the town I lived in because the school service wasn't the same. It just puts makes an almost impossible situation even worse.

I guess in the end we are in unknown legal territory but god it seems like the plaintiff here should wait in line for people who have real problems and grievences to get theirs first. I'm hoping this involves some sort of "Act of God" rule and the plaintiff gets nothing. I have no sympathy for BU though either if some provost is making 500K this year and living on tax free land in the Back Bay.

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Not for nothing but she *already paid* so yeh she does "have to pay" something even if she doesn't want to. This isn't about the upcoming semester, it's about the present unexpectedly digital semester.

Gyms tried to keep people's fees for unrenderable services, too. BU could have worked harder to strike a balance between keeping people safe (by packing them all off home) and partial refunds.

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Just very selfish, callous and disgusting in my opinion.

That statement applies better to BU than to the student (or more likely, than to the student's parent(s) who are footing the bill).

Bottom line is she doesn’t have to go there and doesn’t have to pay anything if she doesn’t want to.

That's exactly what the lawsuit is about. She doesn't want to pay for not going there the 2nd half of this spring semester.

Yes, the situation sucks for both BU and the student, but I don't think we should instantly take the "possession is 9/10s" attitude that tuition (which is generally prepaid for the semester) shouldn't be refunded while gym memberships (which are generally paid monthly) should not be collected.

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Let's say you order and pay for concert tickets. And a tornado rips through the town where the venue is located and destroys the building.

The company's correct response to you is "I'm sorry, show is cancelled; here's your money back." and not "Well, we're keeping your money, and you can watch video of last year's performance online."

And a customer who sues to get his money back is certainly not being unreasonable or self-centered.

This is more like a tornado hitting in the middle of the concert and everyone has to evacuate, so the band doesnt get to finish. Would you really feel like you should get your money back in that circumstance?

But most managers would offer one.

...don't typically make great employees.

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If she gets a law degree, and applies to an ambulance-chasing firm, it may pay off big time. That may even be the point.

"and her father"

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Well, perhaps her father (she's a sophmore, so 19-20) like some other parents, are helping their child with tuition, and therefore it is partly at least his money.

How telling "and her father"

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Which the story does note, but granted, down near the bottom.

I'm kind of not happy with the way instruction came down from some of the professors. There is something to be said for in class learning over University of Phoenix style instruction, especially in the courses that needed a lot of math, yet grading was done as if they were there in class everyday.

How think you?

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I heard universities were "encouraging" faculty to grade very leniently (for final grades). None of the schools want parents suing them because their kid's GPA dropped.

I can see the complaints but here at UHub HQ it wasn't really an issue, so I can't speak to it.

Daughter was in her final semester and she'd already fulfilled the requirements for her major and she didn't feel like taking any more classes in it. Her minor was theater, and she had one class left, which could have been a serious issue, but fortunately she'd already gotten all of the required in-theater classes (from costume design to whichever class requires students to climb onto catwalks) done and her last requirement there was basically reading plays and taking quizzes/writing essays on them. And one of her other classes mainly involved talking to a single other person anyway (Modern Irish) which Zoom is fine for (in fact, her final, even in the Before Times, was always going to be an online oral exam with somebody at Notre Dame).

And the other class? Ecology of Plagues, which, OK, became sort of a current-affairs discussion, but she probably could have missed every single class and still done well on all the quizzes and the final because she's been reading and puzzling about plagues since she was a little kidlet, and the class was Gen. Ed., not a biology-major class.

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I'm surprised at how against this the comments here are. Why are people on the side of colleges, and not the people? I'm normally against frivolous lawsuits, but students pay upwards of 20-50k+ per year to stay on campus and go to classes. Clearly the quality of class and the offerings they're getting are going to be less while they're mandated to stay at home- we are all adapting on short notice.

My gym is offering a pause on monthly dues, or a reduced rate for access to their online classes. Why shouldn't a well-off college do the same as my local gym, which has far less money in the bank??

Seriously, looks like some of you folks are on BU's board or something.

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Some people seem to think that nobody should ever sue for anything. You should take what you get and shut the fuck up, is their attitude.

Even if BU's online learning is twice as good as the online learning my kids are getting in elementary and middle school, it still sucks badly and is probably lawsuit-worthy.

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it's all the same people that think we need to go back to work during a pandemic. there's a really significant subset of people who work really hard to make sure the status quo is never upset.

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You're right, I think I'm just reaching my breaking point. I can't listen to many more people defending insurance companies, colleges, big corporations, etc. So many people are hoping for incremental improvement, while we're slowly sliding further and further backwards as a nation. I hope for better, but I really, really, fear the worst.

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BU grad here. Are the kids at all colleges getting less than they expected? Yes. Is the world a screwed-up mess right now. Well yes to that too. Given that the need for remote learning is not the fault of any of these schools, my opinion is that they have done an imperfect but decent job of pivoting to deal with the crisis. Everybody in the country got a sucky deal because of the virus. That does not mean that everyone is entitled to sue someone for their misery.

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Isn't the school's operating costs currently lowered, and shouldn't that savings be passed on to students in the form of partial refunds or credits towards future tuition owed?

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BU shouldn't get a pass to collect 100% of the tuition for less than 100% of what was offered. They aren't a charity, and I feel less bad for them than I do the actual people that are paying $2500 for an online-only last-minute class!

This isn't a criticism of their pivoting to online learning, it's simply recognizing that you're not giving the product that was agreed to, so how about refunding an appropriate percentage of tuition to reflect that. I went to Northeastern and I think they should do the same.

How hard is it to come down on the side of the human beings rather than the corporation for once? I swear, this country rushes to defend the billion dollar entities before people at every turn.

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Every other company is suppose to plan for business interruptions liek this. And while it's impossible to fully prepare for a pandemic, having a more cohesive way to support online learning is not an unreasonable ask of a university. It's a business decision not to do so and this is one of the risks coming to collect.

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The the school can get less than they expected for tuition. They refuse to do that, yet expect their students to get less than they expected? Then that's why they're getting sued.

I sympathize with everyone involved, but like so much with education, people who aren't practitioners don't appreciate just how much skill is involved with designing and delivering instruction. While the elements are the same for in-person and online teaching and learning, HOW those things are implemented in the different environments differ greatly. I mean, digital instructional design is a whole field of its own and most instructors aren't trained in it. Hell, very few PhD programs provide any substantial coursework in pedagogy.

I absolutely think students should get some sort of financial credit, but the higher ed mass layoffs have already begun. The gov't should be stepping in to provide support, but we all know how that's going. Everyone's screwed here.

But guess what? If you don’t want to pay for online gym classes.......You don’t have to!

Eventually the market (and college rankings) will decide what your online education at BU is worth. If you don’t like it, don’t go.

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You should take what you get and shut the fuck up, is their attitude.

Eventually the market (and college rankings) will decide what your online education at BU is worth. If you don’t like it, don’t go.

The problem here, which should be fairly obvious, is that she's paying for it *now*, and she won't know how the market values it until she graduates.

In other words, she paid for one thing, and she got something else, which may or may not be worth as much as the thing she actually paid for, and she won't find out for several years.

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But sometimes shit happens and we all have to sacrifice things for the greater good of the country.

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And BU should be willing to sacrifice some of the tuition and fees it's already collected, since it isn't delivering the product that was paid for.

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But for 1-2 months of online learning I think it’s a little too early to be jumping the gun on lawsuits here.

If the judge tells that everyone gets $500-$2,000 off their payments think that’s fair actually. But in general I think it’s just not the right time (after two months of online classes) to be having multi million dollar lawsuits.

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It's not like BU sold her a bad bag of goods intentionally, they reacted to an unprecedented event and she's whining about how unfair it is.

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She and BU had a contract.

She fulfilled her part of the contract by paying her tuition.

Unprecedented events prevented BU from fulfilling its part of the contract.

That does not let BU off the hook.

What would you think if you had hired a guy to put a new roof on your house, paid him 50% up front, and then he called and said, "A storm just destroyed my shop and my truck. Not my fault. I'm keeping your deposit and no roof for you in the foreseeable future; sucks to be you.

If the university had explicitly reserved the right to substitute online classes when compelled to by acts of God or government, then she and her father wouldn't have a case.

Since BU didn't do that, they can argue that the paid for something they're not getting, and deserve a refund. It seems pretty straightforward to me.

I'm surprised at how against this the comments here are. Why are people on the side of colleges, and not the people?

The authoritarian personality type tends to side, in any conflict, with the more powerful player.

You see it a lot here in the UHub comments every time some consumer who got lied to or otherwise mistreated by a big company brings a lawsuit.

Actually, most colleges' online learning is very good, often better than on campus, and access to faculty is excellent. So on that level I think her case is without merit. But as differentiated from the graduate student complaint earlier, an undergraduate's college experience is very much about being physically present with other students (undergrad and grad), being away from home, getting guidance from advisors, the whole package. That is what BU sells to incoming students - that's what you see on their website and in their viewbooks - the interaction with peers, the late night/lunch hour BSing, running along the Charles, etc. For the traditional age undergraduate student (18-22) online education is an inferior product and they ought to be charged less than for the traditional college semester.

I'd love to see if that actually bears out, and if so, if it's because online only/mostly instructors are doing so because they enjoy and/or are focusing on teaching as opposed to research, grant writing, and other institutional obligations.

I am in the midst of completing a masters part time with BU's blended format (online and on campus as you want) and BU's been doing this a lot longer than other colleges and universities. Their online learning, at least in my program, is superior to many other online classes I have taken (Northeastern looking at you). Either way they should offer a discount on tuition if they can't field the full experience and must rely SOLELY on online education.

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Presumably, the course you are taken was designed and implemented from the beginning under the assumption that some students would be taking it partly or completely online.

That's a very different situation than taking an instructor who has already taught ~2/3 of an academic year, with lesson plans and lecture notes and whatnot already prepared, and then saying "Guess what? You have to teach the rest of this year online now. Have fun!"

I have no idea if that's how BU handled it or not, but that seems to be how most public schools have been handling it, and given the speed with which this crisis developed, it seems reasonable that most colleges weren't able to handle it much better.

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She’s still getting credit for the spring classes I presume? If so, why sue? Understand that it is frustrating that she didn’t get the college experience this semester, but her job prospects won’t be affected by this, she’s only a sophomore.

If so, why sue?

Because BU did not deliver what she paid for and did not offer a refund.

Understand that it is frustrating that she didn’t get the college experience this semester,

Exactly. She did not get what she paid for.

but her job prospects won’t be affected by this,

She wasn't paying for job prospects; she was paying for a college education, which includes all of the learning and experience that happens outside the classroom. It's why, to misquote a line from Good Will Hunting, people fork over $200K for an education that they could have got on their own with a Boston Public Library card and about $1.83 in overdue book fines.

Like every other school? If you are unhappy, withdraw for the semester, break the lease of your apartment, return the car, cancel the jazzercise class, end the Blockbuster subscription, stop the BlueApron delivery, end the QVC autorenewal, cease the spotify account, etc etc

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Most are going to get inflated grades for a semester, why not take advantage of it and take the 15 credits.

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And then sue.

At most colleges the cancellation deadline to avoid paying for the spring semester would be way back in the middle of last fall.

If the semester has started, that money is gone forever. This applies if you leave voluntarily or get kicked out. Maybe they'll let you drop your classes without it turning up on your transcript, that's all.

If my auto insurance company (some of the biggest ripoff artists of all time) offered me money back on my payments, unsolicited (!), then schools should be able to do the same.

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The insurance companies did that because the cost of payouts dropped dramatically with the huge reduction in commuting. Many (perhaps all) insurers have contractual or regulatory clauses requiring that they rebate such savings. Universities aren't really seeing their costs go down. They still have to pay staff, rent, debt service, etc. Really, the only significant savings would be found in certain on-campus residential offerings, such as dining services. Students paying for room and board they aren't receiving would have a legitimate grievance, but it doesn't cost less to offer remote learning, why would there be a reduction in tuition?

Sure, they still have to pay staff and rents, etc, but I think you're vastly discounting the costs of running a college campus.

Most business costs and household costs, schools also incur, and I'd argue that they'll save on many if not most of them.

In addition to the room and board savings you mentioned, the school might save on electricity, heating, air conditioning, personnel costs (security, etc), maintenance, liability insurance, garbage/recycling costs, sewer/plumbing, non-essential personnel salaries, lawn cutting/landscaping if they choose to scale back!!, coffee in the administration offices, toilet paper, graduation ceremony costs, classroom upgrades, etc.

So they're saving to say the least. Then couple in the fact that they are providing a lesser experience, and from where I stand, the evidence is clear that they should pay back at least a portion of tuition.

Lastly, many of these schools have huge endowments. By legal definition, these endowments may NOT be allowed to accrue for certain purposes such as for profiteering or as a financial vehicle in general (basically, the school is a non profit, and they therefore cannot operate an endowment for the exact purpose of making a profit... Makes sense).

Therefore, failure to use endowments as an emergency or rainy day fund in this situation is against the inherent purpose of said endowments, and could even threaten the non profit status that allows schools to accrue them.

The school's moral and legal obligation is to partially refund some tuition...

Just my 2 (non)cents

/=

The majority of expenses that colleges must pay don't drop all that much because the students went home. Auto insurers on the other hand continued to collect their normal fees while the amount of driving and accidents dropped precipitously. My insurance company sent me fifty bucks. They probably saved $500 per car they insure. I think they rushed to send out checks before the AG started asking a lot of probing questions.

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The majority of expenses that colleges must pay don't drop all that much because the students went home.

That was a business decision made by colleges. They could have cut their losses, ended the semester early, refunded tuition, and furloughed staff and faculty. Instead, they kept everyone enrolled and everyone employed.

Who should bear the burden for that decision - the students/parents, or the school? Reasonable answer is probably both.

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It would be safe to assume that ending the semester early, cutting off all remaining instruction and delaying graduation for thousands of students, would have invited at least this many lawsuits.

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furloughed their workers, Massachusetts would be in a MUCH worse position. Over 200,000 people in MA work in Higher Education- it's our 3rd or 4th largest industry.

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I think you've landed on why so many here are so dismissive of this student's concerns (as opposed to how they would feel if we we're talking about an athletic club rather than a university). Many of us in this town make a living, directly or indirectly, from the huge amounts of money that students pour into this city every year. Apparently folks feel entitled to this money, even if the kids who are saddled with this debt are in no better position to shoulder the burden than we are.

Make the Corona Virus go away now daddy, I want it NOW.

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Interesting that you equate a woman who wants to receive what she's paid tens of thousands of dollars for with a spoiled child.

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Or did you just feel like leaving a comment to my lighthearted response.
I actually equated her to a fictional character from a movie I liked when I was a kid...but have at it.

Like your choice of the word "lighthearted."

Should I turn in my chick card?
Is it interesting I used the word chick?

If plaintiffs in any of these suits against universities win large judgments, it's likely to have a seriously bad effect on what schools do the next time there's a public health crisis.

Do we really want unis deciding that they'd better not protect their students and staff by limiting physical contact when there's a pandemic? Especially after many will have been vacationing and mingling with kids from other localities over spring break? Would we have wanted lots of New Yorkers returning from the center of the U.S. pandemic?

Heaven safe us from overly litigious people.

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BU should sue every student who skips class..

On what basis?

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" lead plaintiffs in a class action worth more than $5 million against BU to represent as many as 40,000 people."

So she and 40,000 other students might get $100 each and the lawyers will split $4.5Million..

Obviously her BU education didn't include mathematics or anything with research where she could see how this turns out for the class.