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BU says coronavirus suits by students over online classes barred in Massachusetts

Boston University says lawsuits by several students seeking tuition reimbursements because of the shift to online learning in March should be dismissed because they violate Massachusetts law against suits over "educational malpractice."

Also, the school says, in responses to suits filed in US District Court in Boston, nowhere did it ever promise students all their classes would be held in person.

BU is one of several Boston-area schools hit with lawsuits after they shut down on-campus education over the supposedly inferior nature of education via conferencing software, especially with professors who seemed unable to master the software.

In response to one of the suits, BU says it doesn't even have to argue the point, although it proceeds to, because of Massachusetts law:

Such claims challenging the quality of educational experience are barred at the threshold by well-settled Massachusetts law that prohibits adjudication of claims for "educational malpractice." Numerous precedents reject attempts to second-guess the quality of the education and services a student receives. These common-law precedents have constitutional roots based upon a university's academic freedom "to make its own judgments as to education." Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 329 (2003). As the Supreme Court has recognized, the "'four essential freedoms of a university'" include an institution's right "'to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.'" Regents of Univ. of Calif. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 312 (1978) (quoting Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 263 (1957).

Also, the students didn't have any contracts broken because nowhere did BU specifically promise to continue in-person education in general but especially in the face of a global pandemic:

The Complaint fails to allege any statements pertaining to the method of instruction that the University would use. ]The student] does not point to a single statement by the University requiring in-person instruction as opposed to remote learning with the same professors, classmates and course materials in a pandemic. Instead, [she] relies on statements that are far too generalized to create enforceable obligations for the University, and make no assurances whatsoever regarding the method of delivering the curriculum. For example, marketing statements on the University’s website describing "Hands-On Learning" or "enthusiasm for everything from a poetry slam to the Redstone Film Festival to community service" are neither definite nor certain; nor are they related to the choice between in-person and remote learning that might be necessitated for student and faculty safety in a pandemic.

Even with these reasons, BU denies the allegation that its online education is inferior:

To begin with, these allegations are purely speculative, and are belied by the undisputed fact that the University’s faculty and staff continued deliver University curriculum for the uninterrupted pursuit and attainment of scheduled degrees. Plaintiff’s claims may not proceed on the basis of such "unlikely speculation" regarding the supposed quality of remote learning.

But even if a judge did want to ponder that issue, the university continues, there's the whole education-malpractice issue to return to:

As the First Circuit has recognized, "[c]ourts consistently have rejected students' claims of educational malpractice against schools" in light of “the lack of a satisfactory standard of care by which to evaluate educators’ professional judgments and the patent undesirability of having courts attempt to assess the efficacy of the operations of academic institutions." Ambrose v. New England Ass'n of Schs. and Colls., Inc.,252 F.3d 488, 499 (1st Cir. 2001).

PDF icon Complete BU response783.34 KB



The one logical problem I saw was that previously, online course prices were cheaper than in person classes. You can make an argument to get a refund on the price difference. It may be in reality the school is spending more to teach online but if that is the published rate at the time.

If I were the consumer student, I would be more concerned about being protected from consequences like a lower grade and an inability to perform in higher level coursework. Also an assessment of true costs, like additional computer accessories etc.

Voting closed 20

If I were a high school or college student at this time, I'd be more concerned about protecting myself from catching a deadly disease than worrying about my grades. The Covid-19 virus is a hell of a lot more deadly and more contagious than the flu, and even healthy younger people without any kind of underlying medical conditions, who've come down with the Covid-19 virus have died from it, or have permanent neurological, heart, or lung problems as a result.

Voting closed 6

These people aren't suing because of the virus, they are suing because they paid for a service the university stopped providing. As a student consumer, I would want my degree to be valuable if I agree to pay for tuition. Cooperation with quarantine is not at issue.

Voting closed 16

The basic principle of our legal system is that since schools have more money than you, and have had more time to find the right scary lawyers and get laws passed to benefit them, all decisions are made in their favor.

Voting closed 19

Thanks to capitalism, it turns out every person or organization that has more money than you gets this benefit. If you don't like that, well...should have earned more money, I guess.

Voting closed 10

That's true. But schools are a good example of organizations with way more money than you will ever have.

Capitalism isn't the problem. Our legal system is. Equal protection under law and all that doesn't mean much if you need money to exercise your rights.

Voting closed 10

After getting the first bill in the mail before I was supposed to start classes remains the best decision I've ever made, maybe second best behind moving here.

What an utter scam. You suck as a parent if you tell your kid they should and have to attend. Lori Loughlin should be in jail not for lying to USC, but for being a crap mom.

Voting closed 12

Do these students also want to discount the value of their degree when they graduate?

Voting closed 5

There's no reason why college students can't learn online in the middle of a horrific pandemic that puts everybody's lives at risk to begin with, and not social distancing makes it a hell of a lot worse. The reason that the Covid-19 pandemic is so out of control here in the United States as a whole is because there are lots of people who really do know better, and who knowingly thumb their noses at and flaunt the rules of mask-wearing and social distancing, as well as the rules of having large gatherings of people.

It's really sickening, especially because Donald Trump's Administration has emboldened and encouraged these kinds of attitudes. It's beyond disgusting.

Voting closed 12