A University of Washington graduate student filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday, accusing the school of a breach of contract following COVID-19-related campus closures and demanding reimbursement for tuition.
Alexander Barry said he paid UW for “opportunities and services that he did not receive, including on-campus education, facilities, services, and activities,” according to the complaint, which was filed in King County Superior Court.
The complaint named members of the UW Board of Regents, including William Ayer, Joel Benoliel, Joanne Harrell, Jeremy Jaech, Libby MacPhee, Constance Rice, Rogelio Riojas, Blaine Tamaki and David Zeek, as well as UW President Ana Mari Cauce.
“Despite sending students home, transitioning to online instruction, and closing its campuses, the University of Washington continued to charge for tuition, and/or fees as if nothing changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students,” the complaint says.
Although Barry, along with thousands of other students, enrolled and paid for an on-campus experience — complete with activities and events that have since been canceled or moved online — the complaint alleges that the university provided “something far less.” Despite the change, the university has not refunded students and families for tuition and other fees, the complaint said.
UW canceled the in-person spring quarter in March after the coronavirus outbreak began to worsen, and during the summer announced the shift to almost all online classes for the fall quarter.
UW spokesperson Victor Balta said in a statement Wednesday evening that the move to online instruction has increased the school’s investment in instructional costs — an amount that covers new technology so students can work remotely, as well as faculty and staff salaries.
“We understand and share the frustration and disappointment that students and their families are experiencing as we navigate the unprecedented limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
It continued, “The pandemic required an immediate shift to online instruction for the final two weeks of the winter quarter. The move to largely remote operations was consistent with orders from the Governor restricting the types of activities that were allowable at institutions of higher education and elsewhere, in the interest of public health and safety.”
The statement also said the university was “clear in its communications with students and their families” that this year’s spring quarter, summer sessions and upcoming fall quarter would continue mostly online, “providing students time to reconsider their enrollment without penalty.”
The school declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.
Barry’s lawyer, Steve Berman, said in a statement that “while we understand the unforeseen limitations the pandemic has placed on institutions of higher learning, we believe UW’s community and its students deserve better.”
“It is our hope,” the statement continued, “that through this litigation, UW can come to recognize its responsibility to tuition-payers and the ways in which it has failed to deliver what it promised them.”
Similar complaints have popped up around the country, and the Seattle-based firm representing Barry also has represented students filing lawsuits against Boston University, Harvard University, New York University and the University of Southern California.