LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A pair of lawsuits filed Tuesday in Los Angeles and Oakland allege that the California State University and University of California systems have profited from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by refusing to refund unused portions of campus fees.
The proposed class action suits — filed "on behalf of all people who paid fees" for the spring 2020 academic semester or quarter at any of the CSU or UC campuses — allege that individual universities overseen by the systems should have refunded pro-rated portions of students' fees after the colleges were forced to close campuses in the wake of the public health crisis.
The CSU lawsuit names Sonoma State University student Akayla Miller as a plaintiff on behalf of all CSU students who paid fees. The UC suit names UC Davis student Claire Brandmeyer as plaintiff on behalf of all UC students who paid fees.
CSU operates 23 campuses throughout the state with an endowment of nearly $2 billion, while the UC system includes 10 campuses with an endowment of more than $21 billion, plaintiffs said.
Depending on campus location, fees for the 2019-20 academic year at CSU ranged from $847 to $4,201, while UC students paid a base student services fee of $1,128, plus additional campus-specific fees, typically totaling an additional $2,000-$4,000, according to the complaints.
CSU spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp said the suit, filed in Los Angeles federal court against the CSU system, misstated the facts. He said CSU would "vigorously" defend itself against the allegations.
"Although classes were converted to on-line instruction after Gov. Newsom issued his stay-at-home order, every CSU campus continued to fulfill its mission of providing instruction and services to its students," Uhlenkamp said. "Campuses continue to operate, and many personal services are now provided remotely, such as counseling, advising, faculty office hours, disability student services, and even telehealth medical care."
He also said that according to the system's interim CSU refund policies for tuition and fees, issued last month, campuses would "provide refunds for various categories of fees that are determined to have been unearned by the campus. These refund policies and procedures are available to all students, and requests for refunds are already being (remotely) processed."
A UC spokesperson said the university had just learned of the complaint, filed in Oakland federal court, and had no immediate comment.
The two major California university systems, which serve more than 700,000 students, announced in March that all classes would be moved online for the remainder of spring due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuits allege that students who lived in on-campus housing were either told they had to move out or were strongly encouraged to do so because there was no reason for them to remain on campus if they had other housing available to them, particularly as nearly all services covered by their fees were suspended.
The lawsuit also alleges that despite ending those campus activities, CSU and UC unfairly and unlawfully refused to offer refunds for the unused portion of their mandatory campus fees. The fees covered student use of health facilities, health services, instructional-related activities, student association dues and the use of student centers, according to the plaintiffs.
"Students' lives have already been turned upside down by this crisis, and the decisions of CSU and UC only serve to exacerbate their pain," Adam Levitt, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said. "Through these lawsuits, we encourage CSU and UC to reconsider their positions and make more fair, legal, and empathetic decisions for their students and their families."
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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