A Ball State student filed a lawsuit against the university and its Board of Trustees — one of many similar lawsuits filed against universities by students around the country who weren’t satisfied with the quality of instruction and services rendered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keller Mellowitz, junior legal studies major, filed the class action lawsuit May 1 in the Marion County Superior/Circuit Court seeking reimbursement for services that weren’t provided to students in the spring 2020 semester as a result of Ball State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the class action complaint, the fees include, but aren’t limited to, in-person tuition, student services fees, university technology fees, student recreation fees, student health fees, and student transportation fees.
The class action lawsuit proposes to represent more than 20,000 students who were enrolled at Ball State during the spring 2020 semester. It states Ball State’s termination and/or failure to provide services for which fees were paid constitutes a “breach of contract” and that the university has been “unjustly enriched” by retaining the fees for these services.
Beginning March 16, Ball State suspended all in-person classes at the university and all students were asked to move out of residence halls by March 24 with few exceptions being made. According to Ball State’s website, the university welcomed 22,541 students at the start of the fall 2019 semester.
Ball State students who lived in residence halls during the semester will receive a credit to their bursar accounts in the appropriate pro-rata amount to be applied to future expenses, according to the university’s COVID-19 website.
Eric Pavlack, principal attorney representing Mellowitz and owner of Pavlack Law, an Indianapolis-based law firm, said the lawsuit is similar to ones filed recently by students against Indiana University and Purdue University and several other universities across the country.
Mellowitz said he did not have any further comments on the lawsuit and directed any further questions to Pavlack.
Pavlack said there isn’t a set settlement amount they are seeking as of yet. He said the amount will depend on the pro-rata portion of the fees that was paid for services that his client claims weren’t provided during the semester, which has yet to be determined.
“I am optimistic that the court and the jury will agree that a student shouldn’t be charged for services that Ball State is not providing to them,” Pavlack said. “It is our understanding, based on information from students, that the makeshift online courses that have taken the place of their in-person courses is very haphazard and not an adequate substitute for in-person instruction.”
Kathy Wolf, vice president of marketing and communications at Ball State, said in an email the university has decided not to refund tuition because “through our prompt and effective transition to remote learning and other alternative teaching and learning activities, our faculty and staff enabled our students to complete their courses and continue making satisfactory progress toward earning their degrees.”
Wolf said the university offered credits and refunds to students for housing and dining services “because we were not able to provide comparable services.”
She said Ball State will respond to the lawsuit through the appropriate legal processes.