The parents of two Northeastern University students who were dismissed last week without a refund of their $36,500 tuition as punishment for breaking the rules on socializing have hired a lawyer and plan to challenge the school’s decision.
The undergraduates were among a group of 11 first-year students who were caught socializing at the Westin Hotel — which is being used as temporary Northeastern student housing — without masks and in violation of the school’s social distancing rule, the university has said.
Brett Joshpe, a Manhattan lawyer, declined to name his clients and said they have already been humiliated by the university.
Joshpe said that the university’s discipline was “grossly disproportionate, rigid, and imperious” and that it mischaracterized the students' behavior. The university’s description of the events were “false and defamatory,” and the handling of the matter “extremely deceitful,” Joshpe said.
Joshpe said the students were not partying, but watching a basketball game while wearing masks. They had all tested negative for coronavirus multiple times, he said.
“These educational tyrants are more interested in publicly humiliating their paying customers than they are concerned about anybody’s health, including the mental and emotional health of first-year students,” Joshpe said in a statement. “On top of it all, they are trying to rob these families blind to the tune of $36,500. Outrageous does not begin to characterize it, and this matter is not going away.”
Northeastern officials declined to comment, citing the ongoing appeals process, but the university has previously said students were provided all the necessary information about the rules and requirements upfront and were aware of the consequences. Students also signed forms acknowledging they understood the policies.
The 11 students were part of N.U.in, a special program at Northeastern that allows first-years to study abroad during their first semester of college. The program was modified to take place in Boston this year because of the pandemic.
There were 818 students enrolled in this program this year, all staying in two-person rooms at the Westin, less than a mile from the Northeastern campus. Northeastern is one of a handful of universities that rented out space in city hotels to put more space between students and decrease the likelihood of coronavirus outbreaks. University staff discovered the student gathering as they were making rounds in the hotel.
Northeastern said students in this program were notified on multiple occasions that they must practice social distancing, wear masks, and avoid crowds. They were required to acknowledge that they reviewed the program handbook, which included these rules, the school said. Northeastern has barred guests from student rooms this semester.
Joshpe, however, said the university’s policies are unclear and enforcement has been inconsistent.
Northeastern is among many schools in the Boston area and across the country that have cracked down on students with suspensions or other forms of discipline for violating strict coronavirus rules. Colleges face tremendous financial and public health pressure to ensure that they remain open safely this fall.
Most campuses are allowing only a handful of students to gather at a time depending on the size of the space, have limited the number of visitors who can enter dorms, and are requiring masks in most common areas.
Some students, families, neighbors, and local politicians have applauded the strict rules and punishments as imperative to protecting public health. But other students and some parents have complained that the rules are unclear and the sanctions too severe.
Experts have said that universities are likely to face legal challenges for these stiff disciplinary measures, but as long as the rules are clear and due process followed, institutions should be on solid footing.