Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia
Two DePaul students filed a class action lawsuit demanding partial tuition reimbursements due to the university-wide transition to remote education.
The suit claims that students are receiving a “lesser” education with online classes after DePaul’s remote switch amid COVID-19 concerns. Read it here.
“As a result of the closure of the DePaul University campuses, Defendants have not provided the education, services, facilities, technology, access or opportunities for which Plaintiffs and the other DePaul students paid,” the suit reads.
The university responded to the lawsuit.
“This purported class-action lawsuit attempts to take advantage of difficult decisions DePaul University made to save lives and presents an erroneous view of how the university has responded to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Carol Hughes, a spokeswoman for the university. “Throughout this pandemic, DePaul’s priority has been the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.”
She added that the university has taken “unprecedented measures” to help students amid the pandemic, like cancelling the planned tuition increase; refunding housing, meal plan and Medcare charges for students in residence halls; and giving students who registered for spring quarter the option to drop their classes with a full refund, among other things.
“The efforts by our faculty and staff to serve students and allow them to continue their academic degree progress have been nothing short of heroic,” Hughes said.
The DePaul students who filed the suit are Enrique Chavez, a senior studying psychology, and Emma Sheikh, a first-year masters student studying elementary education.
The two students do not know each other, but Sheikh filed by filling out a form on ClassAction.org and was then contacted by a law firm.
They are asking the court to find DePaul in breach of contract and for tuition to be discounted for both spring and summer quarters.
Sheikh, who also works as a preschool teacher, said that classes like field experience courses — where DePaul students go into a Chicago Public School or other elementary school to teach a mini-lesson to students — have been replaced with videos of virtual lessons, “answering questions and submitting them” and textbook assignments.
“You have to see what actual classroom environments are like in order to be able to succeed in those environments, and that’s just been completely taken from us,” she said. “And we still have to pay full tuition for it even though I could go on the Teaching Channel and find and search for a 10-minute teaching video, and watch that in my spare time for free.”
Chavez could not be reached for comment.
The suit is brought on behalf of all students who “paid DePaul University tuition and/or fees for in-person education for the Spring 2020 Quarter or Semester, the Summer 2020 Term, and/or one or both Summer 2020 Sessions,” the suit reads.
This means that if the plaintiffs win the case against DePaul and the university’s Board of Trustees, all university students who meet that criteria will receive the partial tuition reimbursement, which Sheikh said was a large motivator behind her decision to sign.
“I know people who paid full price tuition and can’t afford it and are really, really struggling right now and honestly deserve their money back so that’s a really big reason why I signed it,” she said.
In the suit, both students said they pay for university expenses with student loans, in addition to scholarship or personal funds. They said they have not received any refunds or have been offered a refund on tuition or fees.
The university’s top administrators said in an email on March 13 that tuition costs for Spring Quarter would remain the same. However, in that same email, they also said that the CTA U-Pass fee, Student Activity fee and Athletic fee would be waived.
Sheikh said in the lawsuit and to The DePaulia she has not received a refund for the CTA U-Pass fee nor the Athletic fee.
Hughes confirmed the university waived the Student Activity fee, Athletic fee and CTA U-pass fee for spring quarter.
A petition on Change.org called for DePaul to lower tuition two months ago. The petition gathered over 5,700 signatures.
Even though DePaul received $14 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the university’s finances are not as black and white as it may seem.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bethke said at an April 8 faculty council meeting that DePaul could see a budget deficit of anywhere between $52 and $105 million budget deficit for the fiscal year 2021. This is despite the fact that the university will end the 2020 fiscal year with a surplus, primarily due to a $12.5 million anonymous donation the school received in December 2019.
“You could imagine a situation where revenue has declined so sharply that we don’t have enough cash for our payroll,” Bethke said at a Faculty Council meeting on April 8.
Sheikh is concerned about where her tuition money is going and how DePaul is allocating their money currently.
“Where has all the grant money gone?” she said. “It’s a private university, how much is the president of the university making? Does he have a six figure salary?”
The university has not commented on whether it would consider dipping into its endowment to assist with funding.
The suit was filed with the United States District Court. The plaintiffs requested a trial by jury.