A UT Austin student named Anissa Reyes filed a lawsuit late last month against the university and its regents, arguing that the university supplied subpar education during the 2020 spring semester in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The suit argues that students have “paid tuition for a first-rate education and educational experience… and were provided a materially different and insufficient product.” The plaintiff is seeking just compensation for students affected by the university’s decision to keep tuition at pre-pandemic rates, despite the cessation of in-person learning.
Despite repeated calls by university students for tuition refunds and changes, the university has refused to change its rates. The suit argues that when in-person classes were cancelled in mid-March 2020, the university tacitly acknowledged, in a March 17, 2020 message from the Provost, that online learning would result in a lackluster educational experience. The university stated, “The drastic change in course delivery from face-to-face to online is expected to impact students’ learning and may, therefore, alter course and instructor evaluation results. All faculty are strongly encouraged to document the challenges you encounter and how you worked to find solutions.” Furthermore, the university announced on April 14, 2020, “To support your continued learning even through the COVID-19 crisis and help you remain on track to earn your degrees, the university will reduce tuition for undergraduate summer courses to 50 percent of the tuition rate for fall and spring semester courses. The summer rates had typically been 85 percent of those long-semester rates.”
The suit claims that the university openly advertises the advantages of on-campus learning and, in spite of this, they refuse to offer compensation for the lack of services that would normally be offered. Specifically, the suit argues that many classes stopped providing any lectures at all to students, forcing them to learn on their own and do assignments with little to no classroom interaction with students or professors. In other words, online learning creates an environment where students lack collaborative learning, the ability to use interpersonal skills, and weakens good study habits.
During the pandemic, some universities have decided to refund certain payments such as university housing and meal plan payments. UT Austin is one of them. Despite these decisions, lawsuits arguing for tuition refunds have been filed across the country against prominent universities including Brown, Colombia, Cornell, the University of Michigan, Penn State, New York University, the University of California, Purdue, and now, the University of Texas at Austin. The majority of these cases have resulted in dismissals because allegations of “educational malpractice” often do not justify strong enough claims to demand compensation. Nevertheless, UT students wait with bated breath in anticipation for the conclusion of this lawsuit and how it might change the university.
Sterling Mosley is the Managing Editor of The Texas Horn. He is from Prosper, Texas, and currently attends the University of Texas at Austin as a junior. He is getting a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, History, International Relations & Global Studies, and Government and is minoring in Portuguese, Business, Spanish, and Security Studies. Sterling is an officer at the Young Conservatives of Texas chapter at UT, the Vice President of International Relations & Global Studies, co-president of Intercultural Conversations, Internal Director of Students for Central and Eastern Europe, a member of the Senate of College Councils, an officer in UT Young Historians, a co-team lead for the Innovations for Peace and Development Research lab's Governance Team, and a member of the lab's Political and Economic Sovereignty Team. Outside campus, Sterling has worked with the Borgen Project as a political intern and volunteered with the David Purdue campaign in the Georgia 2021 runoff elections. Currently, he is an intern with the Leadership Institute’s development department in Arlington, Virginia, and is participating in the Heritage Foundation's Academy program.