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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, May 8, 2020

Vanderbilt student sues school seeking spring reimbursement




A Vanderbilt freshman has sued the university in a class-action lawsuit stating it violated state laws in refusing to reimburse students for room and board, tuition and other costs for its spring 2020 semester, despite closing residence halls and offering students a limited online learning experience, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman, which has offices in eight U.S. cities but not Nashville.

Similar suits have been filed by the firm against Boston University, Brown University and George Washington University.

Colleges and universities across the country were closed by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

The lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, states Vanderbilt University sent its students home and closed its residence halls, yet continues to charge for tuition, fees and room and board “as if nothing has changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students.”

Vanderbilt students are unable to continue school as normal, occupy campus buildings and dormitories, or avail themselves of school programs and events.

The student bringing the lawsuit, referred to as John Doe in the complaint, was a freshman living in Vanderbilt’s student residential housing. The residential campus, requiring a majority of students to live in student housing, is considered an “integral part” of the Vanderbilt education. Doe paid more than $34,000 for the spring 2020 term at Vanderbilt, including tuition, meal plan and housing, the suit states.

In 2019, Vanderbilt made $319 million in net tuition and fees, the lawsuit adds.

“College students across the nation are in whiplash right now, having been told in many instances to make emergency evacuations of their dorms and residence halls as colleges have shut their doors due to COVID-19,” says Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney for students in the class action. “As if the shock of sudden campus closure was not enough, students are now left with holding the bill for amenities they will not receive, often to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.”

“A college or university cannot in good faith continue to collect millions of dollars from its students while failing to offer them the service they’ve paid for,” Berman adds. “We will do everything we can to hold them accountable for the parents, guardians and students left holding the bill amid a global health crisis.”

The class action brings claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and conversion claims.

The proposed class would include all students enrolled at Vanderbilt for the spring 2020 term who paid in whole or in part tuition, fees and/or room board, but were denied use of and access to in-person instruction and/or campus facilities.