Student sues Liberty University, demands refund over coronavirus response

"Liberty University is, in a very real sense, profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic," the student wrote in the lawsuit.
Image: US-HEALTH-VIRUS
Students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., congregate while walking around on March 31, 2020.Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / AFP - Getty Images file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By David K. Li

A student at Liberty University — which is under fire for opening its campus during the coronavirus pandemic — has filed a lawsuit against the school, demanding a refund.

The anonymous plaintiff said that if the university, established by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell Sr., is to remain open at full cost, then it should also make its full array of student services available, according the federal complaint filed in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the university is based.

The school has moved all classes online, shut down on-campus recreation centers, converted all dining options to takeout only and ended all student activities — and it still wants to keep all tuition and other fees paid by spring-semester students, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status to include other "similarly situated" students.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

"Liberty University is, in a very real sense, profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic — keeping its campus and campus services 'open' as a pretext to retain Plaintiff's and the other Class members' room, board and campus fees, despite no longer having to incur the full cost of providing those services, all the while putting students' finances and health at risk," according to the lawsuit filed Monday by "Student A."

The school said in a statement that it's offering $1,000 in credit to "certain students" who opted to move off campus.

"Liberty University has tirelessly attempted to balance the needs of students, employees, and the community as it has navigated through the unprecedented health challenges presented by COVID-19," according to the statement. "We have also taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved."

A university spokesman declined to elaborate Tuesday on what other refunds or credits the school might offer to students.

The statement said it's safe to be on campus: "Liberty's less populated and more frequently sanitized campus living environment will be maintained for those students who chose it as their safest option. Thankfully these measures have resulted in no on-campus student testing positive for COVID-19 thus far."

Liberty University's on-campus student population is usually about 15,000, but only a fraction of students have returned. Annual tuition is $23,800, and housing options run from $4,750 to $8,000.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage and alerts about the coronavirus outbreak

The student, identified only as a non-Virginia resident, took Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, to task for downplaying the threat of COVID-19.

Falwell "states that people are 'overreacting,' comparing COVID-19 to the flu, insinuating that the overreaction was politically motivated and even speculated the virus may have been a Christmas present from North Korea or China," the lawsuit said.

Students at a handful of other colleges have also filed lawsuits in hope of recouping tuition money after their colleges shifted to online learning.