A psychology grad student at Northeastern says it's not his fault a global pandemic forced Northeastern University to shut its campus, so he wants the school to reimburse him the $23,400 he says he paid for tuition for the spring semester.
Lawyers for Manny Chong, who filed the suit in US District Court in Boston yesterday, are hoping to make him the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit against the university looking to collect more than $5 million on behalf of some 20,000 other Northeastern students.
In their complaint, Chong's lawyers write that Northeastern's announcement on March 11 that it was closing its campus the next day due to Covid-19 deprived him both of superior in-class learning and access to campus facilities, which his tuition and fees entitled him to.
Instruction supplied substantially or entirely online has been recognized as pedagogically inferior by, inter alia, the Commission on Accreditation of the American Psychological Association (which provides accreditation for Northeastern's Counseling Psychology PhD-level program) in its Guidelines and Principles ("G&P") for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology. Those guidelines provide that "a doctoral program delivering education and training substantially or completely by distance [online] education ... could not be accredited," for the reason that "face-to-face, in-person interaction between faculty members and students is necessary to achieve many essential components of the G&P that are critical to education and training in professional psychology, including socialization and peer interaction, faculty role modeling, and the development and assessment of competencies."
For a period of several weeks and throughout the month of April 2020, no tuition-paying Northeastern student has been able to access Northeastern’s on-campus facilities and resources, such as the campus’ classrooms, library (along with the assembled hard copy academic resources there), the campus student center, or the campus’ three fitness facilities.
The complaint notes that Chong signed an "Annual Financial Responsibility Agreement," in which he agreed to pay tuition in exchange for "educational services, and for other valuable consideration," and that, at least as of January, Northeastern did not even have an online graduate program in psychology.
Just two days before the suit was filed, Chong wrote on his LinkedIn page that:
The unpredictability of the coronavirus makes reopening in the fall a challenge for colleges nationwide. In the best interest of faculty, staff, and students, I believe the best course of action is to delay the fall semester and potentially (a big "if") reopen in the spring (with more clarity and awareness of containing the coronavirus).
The complaint helpfully points out that Northeastern has an endowment of $1 billion.