Judge dismisses lawsuit against NU for charging full tuition during pandemic


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

The Weber Arch. Plaintiffs filed over 300 cases, claiming that the University breached an express or implied contract by switching from in-person to virtual instruction.

Hannah Feuer, Assistant Campus Editor

An Illinois district judge dismissed a complaint alleging Northwestern went back on a promise to offer in-person instruction to students when it switched to virtual instruction during the pandemic.

The class-action suit was brought by a number of current and former students on behalf of those who attended virtual classes during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. The plaintiffs alleged the University breached an express or implied contract, saying NU unjustly took students’ money by failing to refund any tuition or fees.

Families have filed more than 300 cases demanding tuition refunds amid the pandemic, most of which have been unsuccessful, according to an article by Inside Higher Ed. 

These cases are difficult to win because many colleges and universities didn’t explicitly promise they would guarantee in-person instruction, the article said. 

In his Sept. 16 opinion, Judge Harry Leinenweber said NU never expressly promised students in-person instruction, nor did the content in its promotional materials or admissions letters create an implied contract.

The plaintiffs used University emails, admissions letters and marketing materials to show NU implied it would offer in-person instruction. Leinenweber dismissed these materials as overly broad and “not concrete enough to be actionable.” He wrote that the fact that NU’s website reads that “students take advantage of Northwestern’s state-of-the-art sound facilities” does not guarantee future students this same access. 

“An implied contract does not mean that every statement on Northwestern’s public website creates contractual obligations for future students to have the exact same experience,” Leinenweber wrote. “Northwestern’s campus and student experience has undoubtably changed dramatically since the University’s founding in 1851 and will likely change even more dramatically in the next one hundred and seventy years.”

According to court documents, the plaintiffs have 30 days to submit an amended complaint, or the court will rule in NU’s favor.

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Twitter: @hannah_feuer

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