Students file lawsuit against Kean University for refunds

UNION, NJ — The coronavirus has caused the entire nation to look to alternative methods to maintain their lives while living under quarantine. All children, teenagers and adults have been told to practice social-distancing measures and stay indoors. Colleges and universities are no different. Due to the deadly outbreak, institutions across the nation were instructed to shut down, resulting in distance instruction and online classes for all students.

Students across the nation — including at Kean University — have as a result filed lawsuits against their colleges and universities requesting tuition refunds for the semester.

Kean student Athena Brock-Murray filed a class-action lawsuit against the school last month for this very reason. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of herself and other students in Union County Superior Court; since the lawsuit is class-action, anyone can join the suit as a plaintiff.

Anastopoulo Law Firm class-action attorney Roy Willey is representing Brock-Murray and the other students who have joined the suit.

“These cases are about basic fairness,” Willey told LocalSource on May 31. “Colleges and universities are not unlike any other business in America, and they too have to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time. They are not any more entitled to keep money for services they are not delivering than the mom-and-pop bakery on Main Street.”

According to sources, the suit argues that while putting the health of students and faculty first by shutting down the campus and transitioning to online classes was the right thing for Kean University to do, the decision hindered the plaintiff and other students from getting the benefits of in-person instruction, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services already paid for through fees and tuition.

Kean University’s spring 2020 semester, scheduled to end May 13, was switched entirely to online learning on March 18 due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to close all colleges because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

As a result of the in-person semester ending so abruptly, Willey is arguing that students deserve their money back.

“Students and their families have prepaid tuition and fees for services, access to facilities and experiential education, and the universities and colleges are not delivering those services, access or experiences,” he said. “Now, universities are not delivering those services that students and their families have paid for and it’s not fair for the universities with multimillion-dollar endowments to keep all of the money that students and their families have paid. It is not fair to pass the full burden onto students and their families.”

Kean University shot back by saying students still received services. Standing firm in their decision, university officials have said the university will not provide refunds to students.

“Kean does not usually comment on pending litigation,” Kean University Director of Media Relations Margaret McCorry said on May 29. “However, the university has clearly communicated with students on this issue. Like all other educational institutions in the state, Kean was required to cease in-person instruction by a government order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“The students will not receive tuition refunds because the university immediately shifted to remote education for all coursework, ensuring students would continue to earn credits and remain on a timely path to graduation,” she continued. “Not only did the university establish a number of support services to provide technology and other resources to students, it waived late payment fees and established new scholarships to support students and their families during this difficult time.”

A “Refund Kean Students Part of their Tuition and Fees” petition was also created by students right after the school’s closure. As of Monday, June 1, the petition had gained 2,156 signatures, nearing the goal of 2,500 signatures.