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Yale student's lawsuit claims online courses were inferior

David Owens, The Hartford Courant on

Published in News & Features

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A Yale University student from Ohio has sued the Ivy League school in federal court, and is seeking a refund of tuition from when the university went from in-person learning to online this past spring.

Jonathan Michel claims the online experience was inferior and that Yale breached its contract with him and other students and unjustly enriched itself when it did not refund tuition. His lawyers are seeking class-action status so that they can represent other students.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven.

Karen Peart, a spokeswoman for Yale, said the university believes the lawsuit is legally and factually baseless and that it intends to mount a vigorous defense.

"Yale acted to protect the community by moving quickly and effectively to online classes, which allowed students to complete the semester safely," Peart said. "Yale also provided students with prorated refunds for the room and board that they were unable to use."

Similar lawsuits have been filed against colleges and universities across the nation in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. UConn, Columbia, Cornell, Pace, Fordham, Michigan State, Drexel and Vanderbilt universities, as well as the California State University system and the University of California, have been sued.

In his lawsuit, Michel claims that the online learning Yale instituted March 23 "cannot replace the comprehensive educational experience promised by" Yale, such as "access to facilities, materials, and faculty, and the opportunity for on campus living, school events, collaborative learning, dialogue, feedback and critique are essential to the in-person educational experience."

It is improper, the lawsuit claims, for Yale to pass the costs of the closure onto students and their families and that they are entitled to a partial refund of tuition and fees, which total about $55,000.

"While this step to close campus and end in-person classes was necessitated by circumstances, (Yale) effectively breached or terminated the contract Yale had with each and every student and tuition provider, who paid for the opportunity to participate fully in the academic life on the Yale campus," the lawsuit claims.

 

The lawsuit further claims that Yale believes it is upholding its end of its agreement with students by providing online courses.

Yale "is attempting to replace the irreplaceable -- on-campus life at an elite university -- with 'virtual learning' via online classes, and is attempting to pass off this substitute educational experience as the same as or just as good as fully participation in the university's academic life," the lawsuit claims.

Those who attend Yale specifically chose not to attend an online university, the suit claims.

Yale plans to allow part of its undergraduate student body to return to campus this fall but most classes will continue to be held online.

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