David J. Hawkins
A California State University student is suing the CSU system, demanding prorated refunds of campus fees to students after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of the CSU’s 23 campuses.
The class action lawsuit alleges that services funded by campus fees are no longer available to students and that the CSU is profiting from the pandemic by retaining those fees. The plaintiff is Akayla Miller, a Sonoma State University student. She is represented by an Illinois-based law firm.
The same firm is also representing another plaintiff in a similar class action suit filed against the University of California system. Both lawsuits were filed on Monday. This phenomenon is not unique to universities in California. Arizona’s public university system, Columbia University and several other universities across the country are also facing similar lawsuits.
CSUN students have echoed the demands in the lawsuit against the CSU in other ways. Two weeks ago, a petition demanding CSUN to reimburse campus-related fees surfaced on Change.org. So far, it has garnered more than 2,700 electronic signatures.
This week the CSUN chapter of a student activist organization, Students for Quality Education, outlined a list of demands for the CSU system’s COVID-19 response. The list included a demand for the refund of campus fees.
According to CSUN’s website, mandatory campus fees for a full-time undergraduate student totaled $615 for the spring semester. The fees fund the University Student Union, Klotz Student Health Center and Associated Students, among other campus services.
In an interview with The Sundial, CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison said that the university’s position on campus fee refunds follows suit with the CSU system position, which is bound by the State of California’s education code.
The CSU does not intend to change its position on refunding campus mandatory fees.
“CSU will vigorously defend against this suit,” wrote Michael Uhlenkamp, the CSU’s senior director of public affairs, in a statement responding to the lawsuit. “Campuses continue to operate, and many personal services are now provided remotely, such as counseling, advising, faculty office hours, disability student services, and even telehealth medical care.”
While CSUN’s health center still offers modified in-person services, other facilities supported by campus fees offer services completely online. The student recreation center is offering students online fitness courses and other virtual services in lieu of their gymnasium. It remains unclear whether the cost of maintaining modified services is lower than the amount generated by campus fees.
CSUN projected a $19.5 million loss by the end of this semester, with losses from parking and student housing totaling at $8.4 million. CSUN and other CSU schools offered refunds for parking and student housing services, but these fees are not mandatory campus fees. CSUN also reported spending $2.1 million to stay operational in light of the pandemic.