A glass-walled academic building has a large yellow University of Oregon "O" emblem emblazoned on its exterior.

The University of Oregon's business school on Dec. 1, 2019.

Kaylee Domzalski / OPB

Students have filed class-action lawsuits against both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon seeking to be paid back for some of the tuition and fees they paid during the pandemic.

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According to court documents, students argue they should not be paying for campus facilities and other in-person activities and experiences when they are unable to access them.

Attorneys with the law firm Hagens Berman said charging students for full on-campus services while they cannot use them is essentially a breach of contract.

The law firm is representing students in similar class-action lawsuits brought against more than a dozen other universities, including the University of Washington.

“College students pay universities for libraries, gyms, campus facilities, activities, in-person access to professors and other hands-on experiences,” Steve Berman, managing partner and attorney with Hagens Berman, said in a statement. “The University of Oregon, we believe, has unfairly continued to charge tuition payers for all of the things they were not allowed to experience and use during the COVID-19 campus closure and switch to online classes.”

Berman said the same about OSU: “We believe that when OSU closed its campus, transitioning to online-only classes, it barred tuition payers from the very things they paid for, and in our opinion, they deserve repayment.”

Both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have been offering some in-person classes, such as labs and other hands-on courses, while the majority of courses have been switched to remote offerings during the pandemic.

Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing at OSU, said the university is aware of the lawsuit and disputes its allegations.

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He said throughout the pandemic the university has continued to provide students “high quality education courses in person, remotely and online.”

“Professors engage with students in instruction and support in providing a high quality Oregon State University education. Services include academic advising, residential, student health services, library, recreational, cultural resource programming and other form of student life,” Clark said in a statement. “The pandemic has afforded OSU and its students numerous ways to advance academic learning and experiential learning to support student success and advance students to graduation.”

The University of Oregon said it is not surprised that the law firm, which is suing other universities on the same topic, has added UO to the list.

“The lawsuit is wrong on the law and on the facts. Despite the enormous challenges presented by a once in a generation pandemic, the value of an education at the University of Oregon remains unchanged,” the university said in a statement.

UO also said it has refunded students for “a number of services and amenities that they were unable to access due to federal, state and local health directives.”

That includes a refund of mandatory fees for the university’s student union and student recreation center, as well as other fees.

Along with a breach of contract, the lawsuit is alleging “unjust enrichment” on the part of the universities.

The lawsuit states that the institutions knowingly requested and accepted the full amount of money from students for in-person classes even though the costs the universities needed to “operate an online program and closed campus are significantly lower than the cost and overhead necessary to provide classes and services on campus and in person.”

The University of Oregon said its course delivery costs have not gone down as a result of the pandemic, but have actually gone the other direction.

“[O]ur costs have increased due to a variety of new technology and infrastructure investments needed to provide quality instruction and to protect our campus community’s health and safety,” UO said in its statement.

Both lawsuits, filed by students individually and on behalf of others who have also paid full tuition and fees at the two universities, are requesting jury trials. The lawsuits ask for prorated reimbursement of the tuition and fees that students paid for but have not fully gotten to take part in.

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