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Student Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Harvard Following Coronavirus Closure

Massachusetts Hall, an administrative building, is located in Harvard Yard.
Massachusetts Hall, an administrative building, is located in Harvard Yard. By Megan M. Ross
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

A student filed a $5 million dollar class action lawsuit against Harvard Wednesday alleging the University provided inadequate education after sending students home due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The student — referred to only as “Student A” — sued the University in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts Wednesday for breach of contract on behalf of themself and their peers, demanding a refund of tuition and fees for “in-person educational services, facilities, access and/or opportunities that Defendant has not provided.”

University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced in March that the University would transition to online learning following spring break as a result of the global pandemic. Since then, students have expressed discontentment with the grading model of the online semester, the inequities posed by online learning, and the inability to participate in extracurriculars.

Student A’s complaint alleges Harvard’s online learning options have been “subpar” due to a lack of adequate facilities, materials, and access to faculty. Citing the difference in cost for the University’s in-person and online classes, it states that remote instruction is “not even remotely worth” what students were charged for Spring Semester 2020 tution.

“Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique,” the lawsuit reads. “The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education that Plaintiff and the putative class members contracted and paid for.”

“Even if Defendant did not have a choice in cancelling in-person classes, it nevertheless has improperly retained funds for services it is not providing,” it continues.

The filing argues that in-person classes allow students to interact with professors and peers; access the University’s libraries and laboratories; and participate in student governance, extracurriculars, and hands-on learning opportunities in ways online classes do not.

Attorney David Pastor, who is representing Student A, did not respond to a request for comment.

University Spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Harvard is the third university in the greater Boston area facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit related to the academic impact of the pandemic. A lawsuit was filed against Boston University over tuition and housing costs last month. Three federal class action lawsuits have been filed against Northeastern University regarding tuition costs, including $50 million dollar grievance by students.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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