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2 Students Sue ISU Over Fee Refunds During Pandemic

Student fees cover the principal and interest related to the Bone Student Center's original construction, and supports the program and operational expenses of the facility.
Eric Stock
Student fees cover the principal and interest related to the Bone Student Center's original construction, and supports the program and operational expenses of the facility.

UPDATED 2 p.m. | Two freshmen have filed a lawsuit claiming Illinois State University did not refund enough of their mandatory student fees after abruptly shifting to online-only classes because of COVID-19.

Bailey Thiele and Jack Moylan are seeking class-action status for their federal lawsuit, which was filed Thursday. They argue ISU’s partial student-fee refund of $12 per credit hour was “woefully inadequate” given how much of campus was closed to students for nine of the semester’s 16 weeks. They accuse ISU of breach of contract. 

The ISU campus has essentially been closed for students since March 6. They finished the spring semester with online learning.

“While closing ISU’s campus and transitioning to online classes was the proper response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this decision deprived plaintiffs and the other members of the class from recognizing the benefits of access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services for which they had already paid fees,” the lawsuit claimed.

Mandatory fees cost around $92 per credit hour. Thiele took 15 hours during the spring semester and paid around $1,384 in fees. Moylan took 12 hours and paid around $1,107.

“ISU’s refund reflects a 13% reimbursement of mandatory fees for a semester in which plaintiff and other class members were deprived of access to the services funded by the fees for over 50% of the semester,” the lawsuit claimed.

Those fees support a wide range of campus activities, including the Bone Student Center, Redbird Arena, and Student Fitness Center. Many of those became unavailable when COVID-19 hit. But fees also support other things that that are less clear-cut, such as financial aid for students, health and wellness programs, and “campus enhancement” efforts.

In a statement, a spokesperson said ISU does not normally comment on pending litigation. But he offered a statement based on what's been shared with students and parents who have inquired about ISU's rationale for fee refunds:

"In response to COVID-19, Illinois State University made the decision to provide students with prorated refunds for fees for the Spring 2020 semester. In refunding approximately $3 million in total fees to students, the University considered which services were still being offered to students through alternative means, such as counseling and health services, and ongoing infrastructure costs funded by fees. The University strives to provide fair refunds for all of its students in this challenging time."

The spokesperson, Eric Jome, said ISU has refunded around $20 million in housing, dining, parking, and student fees.

The lawsuit remains pending.

Copyright 2020 WGLT

Ryan Denham started his career as a copy editor and later business and city government reporter at The Pantagraph in 2006. He later worked for WJBC radio in Bloomington. He now works in website development for Illinois State University and is a freelance reporter for WGLT.