Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Other Colleges Face Coronavirus Lawsuits The legal cases argue that online classes don't have the same value as on-campus ones.
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Colleges Face Student Lawsuits Seeking Refunds After Coronavirus Closures

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Colleges Face Student Lawsuits Seeking Refunds After Coronavirus Closures

Colleges Face Student Lawsuits Seeking Refunds After Coronavirus Closures

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Columbia, Brown, Vanderbilt, the University of Pennsylvania - all of these institutions have hallowed traditions, proud alumni. And they are all currently being sued by disgruntled students. The students say that when campuses shut down because of the coronavirus, they should have gotten more of their money back. NPR's Anya Kamenetz from the education team has been following the suits. And she joins us now. Hi, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Just how many of these lawsuits are we talking about?

KAMENETZ: Dozens. And there's more being filed all the time. There is a firm called Anastapoulo Law Firm in South Carolina that has set up a website called collegerefund2020.com to recruit plaintiffs. And they've alone filed about 30 of these suits. Interestingly, the firm's founder, Akim Anastapoulo, used to be a TV judge on a show called "Eye For An Eye." Here's a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EYE FOR AN EYE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: In the court system, justice is not always just. That's why they bring their disputes here. Real people, real problems, real revenge.

MARTIN: Wow. OK. So what's the substance of the suits? What do they claim?

KAMENETZ: So the argument is that online college just doesn't have the same value as in-person. So when these universities shut down, they did offer some refunds, many of them. But these suits argue that, you know, not only did they lose access to their gym and their activities in their dorm, but their diplomas will always have kind of an asterisk because they did part of their degrees online.

MARTIN: What are the universities saying?

KAMENETZ: Well, a few of them have commented publicly so far. I did get a response from Pace University in New York City. And they basically pointed out that not only have they continued to teach their classes online, but they're also offering tutoring and counseling and other services. So tuition dollars really are not going to waste.

MARTIN: So do these suits have a chance?

KAMENETZ: Well, I reached out to Deborah Hensler. She's a scholar of class action and a professor at Stanford University Law School. And she said she thinks they're a very long shot.

MARTIN: How come?

KAMENETZ: Well, three big reasons. One is force majeure. So basically, any kind of great, unforeseen event like a global pandemic tends to void any kind of contract. The second principle, interestingly, there's sort of a track record of what's called judicial deference to academia, which basically means that universities get some leeway in courts when it comes to decisions related to education. And finally, you know, there's the substance of the legal claim itself. And Hensler was drawing on her own experience here. She's not giving legal advice. But she said, you know, since Stanford closed its campus, she's been offering her classes online. And she feels like, basically, the quality is almost just as good.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Anya Kamenetz from our education team, who will no doubt be following the upshot of these suits. Thank you so much.

KAMENETZ: Thank you, Rachel.

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