When Montclair State University announced that it would be moving classes online due to the spread of COVID-19, a class action lawsuit was filed by a film student seeking a tuition refund for the spring 2020 semester.
Colin Keyes, a junior film student, is suing Montclair State, arguing that film classes are less valuable in an online format. The suit also argues that students should be refunded due to their inability to access on-campus resources that were included in the cost of tuition.
Since the lawsuit is class action, any student who paid tuition for the semester is able to join. However, many students at the school feel that the lawsuit is in bad taste.
George Jamgochian, a junior majoring in sports media and journalism, said that he’s heard many students discouraging the lawsuit.
“I think it’s a shame someone went this far,” Jamgochian said. “I like to think the university would abide to everyone’s concerns, but I guess for one person it just wasn’t enough. I’ve heard plenty of outcry from other students bashing the guy that brought on the lawsuit. Although I don’t know him personally, it does leave another mark on an already tainted school year.”
Julia Ryan, a senior communication and media arts major, felt that there are grounds for a refund, but not a refund of tuition costs.
“I understand wanting to get the fees back for the equipment and insurance and if they were dorming, but to get the entire tuition back doesn’t really make any sense if we’re still getting online classes,” Ryan said. “Overall it’s definitely not the experience everyone thought they were gonna have, but we’re still being taught and we’re still getting credits from it.”
According to Erika Bleiberg, the director for media relations, Montclair State is not providing partial refunds for tuition and fees this semester.
“In order to help save lives and slow the spread of the virus, all educational institutions in New Jersey were required by government order to stop providing in-person instruction during the public health emergency,” Bleiberg said. “The university has continued to provide all of our students with instruction and support services so that they can stay on track toward graduation.”
Sofia Giannascoli, a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in film, explained that film classes cannot be easily conducted virtually.
“I think it takes a certain amount of in-person articulation and discussion to make a film class feel the same,” Giannascoli said. “It takes sharing your thoughts and ideas about a film with your peers to get a well-rounded understanding of its ideas.”
This suit comes as Montclair State has just lost 25% of its annual state funding.
Kaya Maciak, a sophomore communication and media arts major, was concerned about how the suit might impact faculty.
“A lot of the teachers are at risk,” Maciak said. “I was just having a conversation with one of my professors, and as an adjunct, they’re afraid that their job isn’t good to be stable. They might lose their employment. I just think it’s kind of coming from a selfish intention. It’s not just about you.”
Joseph Brennan, vice president of communications and marketing, explained that if the student were to win the lawsuit, it would be a significant financial loss for the school.
“Potentially, a judgment could run into the tens of millions of dollars,” Brennan said. “That would be a lot of money for any institution, but especially for a public university like Montclair State, which tries very hard to keep tuition and fees as affordable as possible.”
Brennan also added his thoughts on how the suit may be received, which reflected what many students are feeling.
“The university is not the enemy in all this, the virus is,” Brennan said. “If some students want to try and make money out of that circumstance, it’s their right to try, but to many people, this lawsuit will seem selfish.”