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Harvard grad student files one of those online-learning-sucks suits, but under a pseudonym because she says Harvard and its supporters are nasty, vindictive mofos

A Harvard student who claims to have been wronged by online classes has sued Harvard to get part of her spring tuition back.

The suit, by a graduate student from North Carolina, is basically the same as those filed by students at Boston University and Northeastern University, except that, unlike in those cases, where the students used their real names, the Harvard student identifies herself only as Student A in her lawsuit, filed yesterday in US District Court in Boston.

Plaintiff proceeds as Student A due to a reasonable fear of retaliation and harassment from Harvard and its supporters, for proceeding with this claim.

In her suit, the student is seeking recompense for the $11,422 she says she paid Harvard for tuition and student health fees for the part of the spring semester cut short by the school's decision to shut its campuses due to Covid-19. The two law firms that filed her suit, one here, one in California, are also seeking to make her the lead plaintiff in a class action involving all Harvard students, an action that could mean more than $5 million in payments should they be successful.

The online learning options being offered to Harvard students are subpar in practically every aspect and a shadow of what they once were, including the lack of facilities, materials, and access to faculty. Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique.

The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education putative class members contracted and paid for. The remote education being provided is not even remotely worth the amount charged class members for Spring Semester 2020 tuition. The tuition and fees for in-person instruction at Harvard are higher than tuition and fees for its other online courses/programs because such costs cover not just the academic instruction, but encompass an entirely different experience which includes but is not limited to:

  • Face to face interaction with professors, mentors, and peers;
  • Access to facilities such as libraries, laboratories, computer labs, and study room;
  • Student governance and student unions;
  • Extra-curricular activities, groups, intramural sports, etc.;
  • Student art, cultures, and other activities;
  • Social development and independence;
  • Hands on learning and experimentation;
  • Networking and mentorship opportunities.

The suit continues:

Defendant’s performance under the contract is not excused due to COVID-19. Indeed, Defendant should have refunded the pro-rated portion of any monies paid for education services not provided. Even if performance was excused or impossible, Defendant would nevertheless be required to return the funds received for services it will not provide.

In addition to getting pro-rata reimbursement for tuition and fees, Student A is also seeking damages and attorney's fees.

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Comments

As long as there are online learning offerings, I don't think she has a case for a tuition refund. But seems obvious to me that all charges for room, board, activities, campus facilities, etc., should be returned. I'm actually kind of gobsmacked that schools would be disputing that. Am I missing something?

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They refunded a substantial amount of room and board.

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As we know, tuition at UMass isn't necessarily the same as tuition elsewhere - as anybody who got one of those Adams grants that funds one's entire tuition knows.

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Opens up letter from UMass.
Hey - you are getting free tuition!
Reads fine print and fee schedule.
[email protected]#$$#@!

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Universities have been moving costs over to "fees" for years now.

From what I've read the schools have refunded the room and board. As for the fees, I don't think the students are owed anything. They used these services for the first half of the semester and they will be available in the future. There's no bait and switch. Furthermore, had the schools not closed they would have sued claiming they are putting lives at risk.

I want to ask these people about what they would have preferred. Lets say the schools offered to refund 1/2 a semester of tuition. BUT since the students only took 1/2 the class, they'd need to make up those six weeks before they got their diploma. Wouldn't that be worse? That's a 1/2 semester of cash and housing they'd need to find since it would probably hit outside the normal student loans and scholarships.

Lawsuits are enviable. There's nothing, at all, the Colleges could have done to make everyone happy. There's always going to be a few greedy parents who are willing to play the lawsuit lottery and hope their kids get a valuable degree AND lots of cash. I've got little respect respect for these people. Especially since most of the kids who claim to feel cheated by schools still plan on coming back, such as the woman behind this lawsuit. (If Harvard sucks so bad, shouldn't you be transferring to a school which didn't close?)

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There's nothing, at all, the Colleges could have done to make everyone happy.

That really isn't the point. The students and the university had a contract. The students fulfilled their part of the contract by paying their tuition. The university did not fulfill its part of the contract. That the university was prevented by factors beyond its control is not really material here.

Let's say you bought tickets to a concert. And a storm destroyed the concert venue, and the promoter said, "Well, obviously we can't have the concert, but you can go onto the Internet and watch the same artist perform live-streamed from our basement studio. And you asked for your ticket money back, and the promoter refused. And so you and the other ticket holders sued to get your money back.

Should I be attacking your lawsuit as unreasonable, greedy, self-centered? Should I be defending the concert promoter saying "there's nothing they could have done to make you happy?"

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Force majeure (not that I have the slightest idea what Harvard's tuition documents say).

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Hell yeah, Cape Fear!

Lets say you bought tickets to a four year, all inclusive music venue which had hundreds of performances over the course of those four years. Part of the fee also included hotels and food.

Something horrible happens and the concert package promoter gives you a refund for the hotel and food but moves the concerts online for a few weeks. (The concerts are still exclusive to those paying the venue.) Also, by watching these four years of performances you get certified as a "Music Expert" and people are willing to pay higher wages to "Music Experts" since you have music skills that you wouldn't have otherwise gotten.

In this case, a refund isn't as clear cut. You still got what you paid for: Exclusive access to concerts and a certification as a "Music Expert". You also got a refund for the tangible things you lost.

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In the college scenario we are talking about 2 months out of 32 (6%) and your still getting credit for what I’m guessing are grade inflated grades for those two months. You haven’t paid for the entire experience yet unlike a concert. And without knowing what is exactly in the contract, it’s tough to argue either way (concerts and events usually have rain checks). What if the colleges simply furloughed everyone on march 15, gave everyone 6% of their money back but didn’t give them credit? Would that be fair?

You can argue that the college fulfilled their contract if they give you the credits.

Next year colleges will be in financial trouble, some more than others. Many fees will be cut next year for various services and students can choose where they want to go based on a lot of these factors.

This topic has been beaten to death on two previous threads, my opinion is that for two months students aren’t owed anything except for obvious payments (housing lost, etc). If this goes on for a few more months or if schools tried to do this for an entire year....? Then maybe I’d side with the students...

But this makes me think, if the students win the lawsuit, are the colleges allowed to take the credits back from those who want a refund and learn in person for their credits?

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The concert analogy here only works if you acknowledge that in this analogy, the concert is currently going on when the storm hits. And I don't know of many venues that will give a refund because an Act of God meant you only got to watch the first half and you're not willing to accept the free livestream they gave you in lieu of the second half.

Or class (semester really). Concerts aren’t organized or paid for that way so it’s a tough example to use.

You pay per class for the full semester - you don't pay for individual class sessions. It's still halfway through what you paid for when it got interrupted.

(Still broken down by class/credits)

no one missed the whole semester? They got part of a semester in person, and part of it online. If someone signs up for the fall because Harvard says it'll be in person and then they change it online with no refunds, then I see your point, but this is still more of a "got half of what you wanted" vs none...

Concert = 4 years

Or else the analogy doesn’t make sense the way he wrote it out. One semester of college is literally worthless without the other 7 semesters.

That's like ordering a dozen donuts after 12 noon at Dunkin' and having a "contract" that they would be fresh, despite the fact that I walked out of the store and consumed them, despite they were stale as hell.

If the student didn't withdraw from the term in the front-end (an H student should have the wherewithal to determine whether an online course is going to satisfy their "holistic" expectations of full educational immersion), participated in their classes (although that's obviously a loose requirement at H), submitted papers, took exams, etc, they have zero standing to backtrack now and act like a bitch.

ASSUMING students were offered the opportunity to withdraw rather than do online courses, the student’s continued participation in online learning probably constitutes agreement to the new
conditions. Like “by using this service you agree to the terms...” They probably could have withdrawn and not received any credit and charges would have been refunded. At least that is how many others schools handle withdrawals. But by continuing to participate there in effect agreed to the online service.

In my extensive legal experience of 0 years.

If they only miss part of the concert, do they get a refund? What if the band gave them CDs of the music they missed?

Not sure I agree. The university did not stop providing instruction. Students were sent home for public health reasons. They should be refunded room and board if they paid it.

I can see an argument for a student who, for whatever reason, could not take the class online, getting a refund, but if they DID take it, they should not get a refund.

Have you even taken an online class from one of these universities? I did. I was in a graduate class that had to move to zoom after the virus hit. And really, the quality of the class was fine. I had a very good instructor and we still interacted with him like we did in class.

You can get great classes online for free. For your $45K per year, universities are offering something other than classes.

The students paid for a degree which they need to enter the next phase of their life. They will still get that degree. So yes, they're getting what they paid for.

Lawsuits are inevitable vs enviable (at least I hope so).

;)

Harvard refunded room and board pro rata for students in university housing and on a meal plan -- but grad students (like the plaintiff here) typically aren't on a meal plan, and many aren't in university housing either.

"Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique."

Someone misses their school chums and wants their money back to somehow make up for the online education experience at Harvard not being the unique opportunity to develop socially or gain independence as they thought the purchase of a top tier luxury item was going to be, in the midst of a global pandemic. If I've learned anything from reading that short complaint is that Harvard matriculates more of the self-entitled than your average graduate programs and maybe the administrators can fix the glitch on its own. They won't because there’s gold in them thar hills and the barriers to entry are low when you have cash.

Disclaimer: a have a master's from the aforementioned institution and I focused on online learning development. 50% of my coursework was online/remote and yeah, it's not the best but at least they had a head start on a lot of other folks. Using Zoom for three classes a semester isn't a piece of cake but I wasn't there to socialize or be noticed.

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But I'm guessing when Colleges and Universities open up again 90 percent of the useless courses will disappear forever.

I took some history and studies classes in college that I found very useful and still do to this day. I also took some impressive sounding classes which I've since forgotten and didn't find helpful even though I work in those fields now.

College is about learning a whole lot of stuff which isn't always obviously useful. If you only care about a degree and nothing else just go to a certificate program and be done. I have friends who did that and wished they didn't miss out on the college experience. But to each their own.

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even if we can say what courses are directly useful now (and as you say, that's harder than people think), we don't know what courses will be useful when students graduate in 4 years, much less a decade or two from now. Case in point: Arabic was considered a useless course and dropped from quite a few schools, until 9/11 hit and suddenly it turned out to be really important and it turned out we didn't have enough Arabic scholars, and the ones we did have were in high demand and incredibly useful.

Although Harvard is not one of the Schools with any that I've heard of.
Just Google Useless College courses.
Mostly in the humanities and I'm sure they have defenders, but I'm not one.
I don't want to argue with you if you are. I'm just giving my opinion.

You and many others seem to conflate a university education with a trade school degree. The purpose of taking trade school classes is to acquire useful skills with which you can find gainful employment. The purpose of taking university courses is to become educated. One is not greater or lesser than the other; nobody should be looking down his or her noses at trade schools, but they are different products intended for different purposes.

I don't want to argue with you if you are. I'm just giving my opinion.

What's the point of posting an opinion on a discussion board if not to encourage people to engage it, including both pro and con reactions?

Because I'll say "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame" is a useless course or Gender Studies is useless or many other courses, and someone will point out how wrong I am but my opinion isn't going to.change because an anonymous person on the internet disagrees with me, as I'm sure i wont change theirs.
So it's a waste of time.

Even a cursory look at the many materials I provide online about "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame" would show it is not a useless course, or at least not more nor less than any other course. Maybe your opinion will change because I am not just some anonymous person on the internet who disagrees with you, but maybe it won't. A mind is indeed like a parachute, sometimes.

Chad and Emma are protective of the legacy and daddy has endowed to prevent the tech-ing down of the institution.

Chad and Emma??? Please explain yourself.

anons

Bwaha! omg you're my hero bulgingbuick. >heart emoji< >heart emoji<

I've yet to meet a single Harvard college student who actually cared about his or her coursework beyond meeting the point requirements to walk away with an A-grade.

Let's review the complaints, per the article point-by-point:

(a) Face to face interaction with professors, mentors, and peers;

The state's stay-at-home order would have negated this even if the students had remained on campus. The university has provided tremendous resources for virtual interactions for course study, office hours, and for interpersonal meetings.

(b) Access to facilities such as libraries, laboratories, computer labs, and study room;

Scan and deliver services remain available at the university libraries. Online access to journals and other materials has not been impacted. Laboratories have been vacated as a result of the state's stay-at-home order. Computer labs have been vacated as a result of the state's stay-at-home order. The student should study in her room.

(c) Student governance and student unions;

Student governance and unions are operational and have transitioned to virtual platforms for the time being.

(d) Extra-curricular activities, groups, intramural sports, etc.;

Maybe the student has her head in the sand, but the state's stay-at-home order has prohibited in-person activities of ten-or-more individuals. She may still participate in virtual sessions for her extra-curricular activities. If the activities she was interested in are not operating during the stay-at-home period, the onus is on those operating them, not the university.

(f) Student art, cultures, and other activities;

Student art, cultures, and other activities are a consequence of the academic environment and community, not an offering of the university.

(g) Social development and independence;

There is an irony here, given that the student holds the university responsible for the development of her independence. Regardless, these traits are developed as a consequence of education and life experience and are not part of the educational offerings of the university.

(h) Hands on learning and experimentation;

Not sure what Hands-on learning and experimentation means. If she is referring to research internships, the university is doing its damndest to transition PRISE and other REU summer programs to remote formats. I personally have two PRISE students working remotely in my laboratory.

(i) Networking and mentorship opportunities.

The university has provided several online networking events. Regardless, the university cannot network for her. She must do that herself. Mentors remain available through virtual interaction spaces.

This student seems very entitled.

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Even if your stereotype is true, it's for undergrads, and this is a grad student. People don't go to grad school to walk away with an A-grade.

Lots of graduate programs are made up of lots of self-guided work, with much less emphasis on classroom study. What's the difference between sitting working on your dissertation by yourself in the Harvard library vs sitting working on your dissertation by yourself at home other than maybe the atmosphere?

What's the difference between sitting working on your dissertation by yourself in the Harvard library vs sitting working on your dissertation by yourself at home other than maybe the atmosphere?

I dunno, what's the difference between going to grad school and learning the same material by studying it on your own in the library?

Harvard is in a bit of a bind. Excellent courses, courses taught by legendary professors, courses that are every bit as good as anything Harvard offers, are available online for free. Harvard is marketing and selling something that costs $45,000 per year. There's a pretty strong implied claim there, that what you get for your $45K per year is something quite a bit more valuable than just taking courses.

Harvard can't have it both ways. Either taking courses online is just as good as attending Harvard, in which case they don't owe anybody a refund but their $45K price tag becomes absurd, or, alternatively, yeah there really is a lot of value to what you get for your $45K, a lot of value beyond courses, in which case they do owe a partial refund because they didn't provide it this year

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. -- Thomas Paine

As someone previously tasked with interviewing police and private sector applicants, my first question to any class of 2020 graduate would be, "is that the class that didn't go to school because of the Covid scare?" This is not to make them feel unworthy but to evaluate how they respond to the question.

Fair or not, this class will always be known for having little or no in-class spring schooling, which to some makes the degree inferior. This is especially true when compared to those who attended full classes in prior years and weren't locked out. Even the recently graduated 240 trooper State Police Academy class switched to on-line learning after just 16 weeks of the normally grueling 25 week basic training. This group, many who will excel in the department, will always be known as the "on-line academy class." At best, this will result in good natured ribbing but may have consequences if two otherwise equal candidates go for promotion and one attended the full academy and the other "only" attended 2/3, then learned the rest on the computer. The same holds true for a Harvard Law degree or MBA. Some will certainly ask, "So you got the degree but didn't even show up the final semester?" The plaintiff didn't get what she paid for and should be made whole.

No one is going to devalue the degree due to six weeks online instead of classroom learning. Perhaps in your I-hate-college-students mind it will, but not in real life.

At a four year school, half of a semester is 1/32 of the time they spent in college. And it's not as if the classes were even canceled. Taking classes online has been happening in some form for the past 20+ years. If this wasn't a national crisis, people wouldn't even know.

Also

Fair or not, this class will always be known for having little or no in-class spring schooling

This is also incorrect. By Mid-March almost everyone in Boston had already completed a full 1/2 of the semester in person. That's not "little or no".

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If this wasn't a national crisis, people wouldn't even know.

Wishful thinking that it won't happen. It already is a national (international) crisis and people, especially those in human resources, are aware of it. As the saying goes, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. Personally, I don't think the degrees are inferior but the question is valid and will be raised. We've all seen an editor's note beside the names of MLB pitcher's who won the Cy Young Award in a "strike shortened season." In other words, evaulators got to see the pitchers (and this spring's Harvard students) much less than normal and it's so noted, forever. That's not what she signed up for. They'd be smart to settle with her before she starts a trend when courts reopen. The universities have also come to a Morton's Fork of sorts. If they concede that students get an equal education from home it undermines the need for huge campuses.

You're comparing a single baseball season to four years of college. And the analogy between a baseball player and college student is strained at best.

A few weeks online won't change the degree. If it turns into several years, that might matter. But at this point, every Boston college is preparing to return to campus in September.

The degree matters. Sometimes details such as what research projects they worked on are important. But no one, anywhere, is going to discount someone's degree from Harvard or any well known school because of COVID-19. It just is not going to happen from anyone who is actually in a position to hire someone.

an intelligent interviewer would see what work did get done, and potentially be impressed by what the student was able to accomplish during a particularly traumatic time. Frankly, anyone who's able to finish an undergraduate thesis or graduate dissertation, or even a particularly interesting project during this period deserves extra accolades.

I don't think you've been to college. Missing a few weeks of classes would have had zero impact on my current job performance. Zero.

People send their kids to Harvard for many reasons. If you view the world through the lens of class, there's enormous value in having your kid's circle of friends and future spouse be the sort that he or she meets at Harvard, whether you come from privilege and are seeking to perpetuate it, or whether you're trying to break into that world. That right there justifies the price tag in the eyes of a lot of people, and that has very little to do with what the degree is worth to a prospective employer.

The tuition and fees for in-person instruction at Harvard are higher than tuition and fees for its other online courses/programs because such costs cover not just the academic instruction, but encompass an entirely different experience...

The petition points out that Harvard charges less for online credits, than in person classes. That would be an acknowledgement that the plaintiffs were charged more than published rates. It seems that each fee could be prorated depending on what it was for.

Take the credits and run.