Harvard Faces $5 Million Lawsuit Over Tuition Refund

May 25, 2020 Updated: May 25, 2020

A Harvard University student filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a much larger group of peers, seeking $5 million in repayment for tuition and fees for services that the university has not provided amid the CCP virus pandemic.

The action, filed on May 20 in a Boston federal court, makes Harvard the latest Ivy League member that is being sued over tuition refunds in the wake of campus closures and the shift to online education. Over the past month, students have brought similar lawsuits against Brown, Columbia, and Cornell Universities.

The student, who is referred to as “Student A,” alleges in the lawsuit that the services Harvard has provided this spring are not sufficient for what students have paid. Citing the difference in cost for Harvard’s in-person and online classes, Student A argues that online learning experiences during the campus shutdown are “not even remotely worth” the cost of tuition.

“The online learning options being offered to Harvard students are subpar in practically every aspect and a shadow of what they once were, including the lack of facilities, materials, and access to faculty,” the lawsuit reads. “Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique.”

College Students Told To Leave Campuses To Counter Spread Of Coronavirus
Students move out of dorm rooms on Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 12, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Harvard president Lawrence S. Bacow announced in mid-March that all courses would move to remote instruction and asked students not to return from spring break, in an effort to curb the spread of CCP virus on the campus. The decision led to frustration among students, who have been promised an in-person, hands-on learning opportunity by the school in exchange for their tuition.

“Even if Defendant did not have a choice in cancelling in-person classes, it nevertheless has improperly retained funds for services it is not providing,” the lawsuit states.

The multi-million lawsuit comes as Harvard got involved in the controversy over whether wealthy institutions should accept emergency aid from the federal government. Several Republican lawmakers, as well as President Donald Trump, expressed frustration in April after Harvard was granted roughly $8.6 million through the CARES Act.

A day after Trump’s comment that Harvard “shouldn’t be taking” the CARES Act money, the university said that it decided “not to seek or accept” the relief funds. The move was followed by other high-profile institutions, notably Duke, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale Universities.

Harvard’s endowment was valued at $40.9 billion by the end of 2019—the largest among all eight Ivy League schools, according to Business Insider.