Students Sue Colleges for Refunds Amid Pandemic
- A student at Liberty University has filed a complaint against the school, claiming that students deserve a refund as they learn remotely during the pandemic.
- The student argues that the school’s assertion that campus is open is just an excuse so it won’t have to give money back, despite only very limited parts of being open or running.
- The student also criticized the school’s slow response to the pandemic, as well as the school’s president for calling global responses an overreaction.
- Students at Drexel University and University of Miami are also suing their schools, claiming that they are not getting the educational experience they were promised and paid for.
Liberty University Complaint
Students at Liberty, Drexel and the University of Miami are demanding refunds on their tuition and boarding as they spend the rest of their semester learning remotely.
Like many other schools across the country, all classes at Liberty University have moved online. While students receive instruction virtually, the school’s dorms remain open for students in need of housing, with dining hall options limited to takeaway. The vast majority of students have opted to finish the semester from home. Those remaining in the dorms are mainly international students with nowhere else to go.
Despite major campus functions, like student organizations, sports, and recreation centers shutting down, the school still touts an “open campus.” A complaint filed on Tuesday by a student identified as “Student A” alleges that the school is making this claim in an effort to not be held liable for refunds.
“The University’s statement that is open is an illusion being put forth to try to keep money that should be returned to students and their families,” Student A claims.
Liberty University is a Virginia-based private evangelical school known for its conservative Christian ideology and its president, vocal Trump-ally Jerry Falwell Jr. In a normal academic year, Liberty hosts 15,000 students on its campus and nearly another 100,000 online.
“Despite ending on-campus services and activities for the rest of the semester and leaving students with no safe and practical choice other than moving out of their on-campus housing and discontinuing coming to Liberty’s campus, Liberty has refused to refund to students and their families the unused portions of the fees that they each paid to cover the costs of certain on-campus services and activities, which are no longer available to students,” the complaint continues.
The complaint also states that at one point, when the school was telling students they were allowed to remain on campus, it encouraged students to consider staying home. While the school later claimed this was not meant to be a recommendation, students felt they were being told campus was unsafe and that the school did not want students to take them up on their offer.
Liberty’s Response to COVID-19
According to the complaint, Liberty offered on-campus students a $1,000 credit to be applied to their Fall 2020 charges. The complaint called this a “mere fraction of what Liberty actually owes.” Dining plans at the school can run as high as $4,450, and housing as high as $8,000.
Student A also states that this credit will not do any good for students not returning to school for the fall semester, or students who do not live in residence halls. The deadline to receive this credit has also long passed. The decision was due March 28.
In addition to being frustrated with Liberty’s failure to take financial responsibility during the pandemic, Student A also criticized the school’s “glacially slow” response to the virus. The complaint notes that on March 13, President Falwell was still calling the global response an overreaction and comparing COVID-19 to the flu.
Two days after this, he insulted a concerned parent on Twitter. That parent was afraid that once students inevitably return home after the semester, they could give the virus to their grandparents.
“Nope, then they’ll go off to summer jobs or internships dummy,” Falwell wrote back.
The school received more criticism in March after telling students they could return to campus after spring break. Over 1,000 did so, which soon led to several students testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
Still, Liberty claims that they have not mishandled finances amid the virus. They told BuzzFeed News that the allegations in the complaint are “without legal merit.”
They also said the school has “taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved.”
Lawsuits at Other Schools
Liberty is not the only school getting slapped with legal action. Students at Drexel University and the University of Miami, who are also finishing their semesters online, have filed lawsuits demanding some of their money be refunded. Tuition alone at both of those schools is over $50,000. When you factor in room and board, the total is around $70,000.
Law360 obtained the suits against the schools, which were both filed out of the same firm in South Carolina on April 10.
“Although [the universities are] still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes, plaintiff and members of the proposed [classes] have been and will be deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning,” both suits say. “Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished.”
The students at Drexel and Miami believe that their tuition covers far more than just their academic instruction. They claim it extends towards computer labs, libraries, student unions and extra-curricular activities, art, networking opportunities and other campus resources, all of which are not available as students are forced to learn remotely.
It is unclear if students have a strong enough case for this to be true. While some experts believe that these tools are all promised and essential to higher education, others think the argument will not legally hold up.
“The students are going to have an uphill battle unless a school has actually shut down and they’re not getting credit, James Keller, the co-chair of the higher-education practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Philadelphia told the Wall Street Journal.
“The basic contractual agreement is, I pay tuition, and if I satisfy academic requirements, you give me credit. That’s still happening.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (BuzzFeed News) (NBC News)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.