BU says coronavirus suits by students over online classes barred in Massachusetts

Boston University says lawsuits by several students seeking tuition reimbursements because of the shift to online learning in March should be dismissed because they violate Massachusetts law against suits over “educational malpractice.”

Also, the school says, in responses to suits filed in US District Court in Boston, nowhere did it ever promise students all their classes would be held in person.

BU is one of several Boston-area schools hit with lawsuits after they shut down on-campus education over the supposedly inferior nature of education via conferencing software, especially with professors who seemed unable to master the software.

In response to one of the suits, BU says it doesn’t even have to argue the point, although it proceeds to, because of Massachusetts law:

Such claims challenging the quality of educational experience are barred at the threshold by well-settled Massachusetts law that prohibits adjudication of claims for “educational malpractice.” Numerous precedents reject attempts to second-guess the quality of the education and services a student receives. These common-law precedents have constitutional roots based upon a university’s academic freedom “to make its own judgments as to education.” Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 329 (2003). As the Supreme Court has recognized, the “‘four essential freedoms of a university'” include an institution’s right “‘to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.'” Regents of Univ. of Calif. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 312 (1978) (quoting Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 263 (1957).

Also, the students didn’t have any contracts broken because nowhere did BU specifically promise to continue in-person education in general but especially in the face of a global pandemic:

The Complaint fails to allege any statements pertaining to the method of instruction that the University would use. ]The student] does not point to a single statement by the University requiring in-person instruction as opposed to remote learning with the same professors, classmates and course materials in a pandemic. Instead, [she] relies on statements that are far too generalized to create enforceable obligations for the University, and make no assurances whatsoever regarding the method of delivering the curriculum. For example, marketing statements on the University’s website describing “Hands-On Learning” or “enthusiasm for everything from a poetry slam to the Redstone Film Festival to community service” are neither definite nor certain; nor are they related to the choice between in-person and remote learning that might be necessitated for student and faculty safety in a pandemic.

Even with these reasons, BU denies the allegation that its online education is inferior:

To begin with, these allegations are purely speculative, and are belied by the undisputed fact that the University’s faculty and staff continued deliver University curriculum for the uninterrupted pursuit and attainment of scheduled degrees. Plaintiff’s claims may not proceed on the basis of such “unlikely speculation” regarding the supposed quality of remote learning.

But even if a judge did want to ponder that issue, the university continues, there’s the whole education-malpractice issue to return to:

As the First Circuit has recognized, “[c]ourts consistently have rejected students’ claims of educational malpractice against schools” in light of “the lack of a satisfactory standard of care by which to evaluate educators’ professional judgments and the patent undesirability of having courts attempt to assess the efficacy of the operations of academic institutions.” Ambrose v. New England Ass’n of Schs. and Colls., Inc.,252 F.3d 488, 499 (1st Cir. 2001).



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