A Boston University Student Is Suing the School for a Refund

"The value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished for the rest their lives," the complaint states.

Boston University

Photo by Olga Khvan

While local universities are doing their best to finish out the school year from a distance, it’s no secret that virtual classes are a poor substitute for the real thing. And now, a student at BU is demanding that the university acknowledge that—by refunding tuition, fees, room and board for all affected students.

The student, an undergraduate from New Jersey named Julia Dutra, filed a class action lawsuit in Boston federal court on Wednesday on behalf of herself and “all others similarly situated.” Through the complaint, Dutra affirms that closing campus and transitioning to online classes was the right choice for BU to make, but that doing so kept her and her classmates “from recognizing the benefits of in-person instruction, housing, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services in exchange for which they had already paid fees and tuition.”

The complaint cites several examples of how the quality of student life has been diminished since the migration to remote learning—for example, some professors are simply uploading pre-recorded videos that do not offer any interactive components, and others are posting assignments online without videos at all.

“The value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished for the rest their lives,” the complaint states.

Notably, BU also made headlines earlier in the week when the university launched an investigation into whether some chemistry and physics students have cheated on closed-book exams and quizzes by looking up the answers online.

Dutra’s lawsuit accuses BU of refusing to provide reimbursement, or of providing inadequate reimbursement that does not fully compensate the students for their loss. BU has thus far only offered to refund room and board from March 22 onward, the day the university closed campus. Dutra is demanding that the university refund an extra week of room and board, because many students left campus for spring break on March 9 and did not return, per the university’s suggestion.

The lawsuit follows a change.org petition to BU for student refunds, started two months ago. The petition, which has collected over 2,100 signatures, advocates for “a refund policy on tuition which prioritizes accurately reflecting changes to students’ educational experience” and “a refund policy on room and board which strictly represents students’ actual periods of use rather than university-sided logistics.”

BU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.