Students petition LMU after being forced to leave campus without tuition reimbursement amid COVID-19 precautions

By Kellie Chudzinski

LMU students’ online petition seeks partial tuition reimbursement, housing and food refunds as well as work-study compensation for the remainder of the semester

Thousands of people — among them Loyola Marymount University students, professors and alumni — have signed a petition demanding partial tuition reimbursement, continued payment of students in work-study programs and accommodations for those who may struggle with online courses.

LMU, which has joined schools across the country in moving classes online and closing on-campus housing as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise, is one of the most expensive university’s in the country, charging at least $70,000 a year for tuition, books, housing and food.

In a statement to The Argonaut, LMU Provost Thomas Poon wrote: “LMU has taken extraordinary steps to safeguard our community in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. I am acutely aware of the challenges that these necessary actions have created for our students, faculty and staff. Through it all, I’ve witnessed the professionalism, commitment and resilience in our community that I am confident will sustain us during this uncertain time.”

Poon is also the university’s chief academic officer.

LMU has joined universities and colleges across the country in moving classes online and closing on-campus housing to students as cases of the novel coronavirus climb nationwide.

On March 13, all LMU students who lived on the school’s Westchester campus and in university-owned houses and apartments in Playa del Oro and Park West were notified that they were required to move out by March 22. Case-by-case waivers to stay in university housing would be taken into consideration, according to the notice. LMU students who lived outside of campus housing would be allowed to stay in the area, though many have been posting their rooms for rent as they also prepare to return to their homes.

LMU officials announced on March 19 that the university would offer “prorated credits or refunds for housing and parking” for the rest of the school year, though neither specific amounts nor balances were released. The notice also said the school will be paying those in the work-study program, which provides students with on-campus jobs in which paychecks can go directly toward tuition or for personal expenses in a lump sum dispersed in April. Those funds are based on hours worked before spring break.

That statement also said it was working with unidentified “dining partners” to offer partial credit for meal plans for which students pay in advance. Students have yet to receive information on the refunds, according to multiple students interviewed by The Argonaut.

Universities have not yet been recommended to close by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though much of California is on a state of lock down, with residents being asked to stay at home and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

A group of students, including LMU junior Raven Yamamoto and first-year student Raymond CangKimVo, penned the online petition on Change.org, which also asks for tuition to be lowered after the university’s March 13 eviction announcement. As of press time, the petition had almost reached its goal of 5000 signatures.

“[Students] are all in such bad shape right now,” Vo said of posting the petition. “We’re all so displaced. We’re really just asking for a little bit of decency.”

“As someone who has just worked so hard to pay these costs just to be able to stay here and then see that we’re getting evicted, classes are being moved online, that we’re essentially not going to have the same quality of education we paid for, it just really upsets me that they haven’t even said that they are intending to refund us,” said Yakamoto, adding she has struggled to cover tuition on her own.

Undergrad tuition and fees at LMU are set at $50,252 for the current school year. That does not include room and board at $15,000 and parking costing anywhere from $800 to $1,200, as reported on the school’s website.

Current film majors and students enrolled in performing arts programs wrote that the new online education format was not conducive to success with their studies. They said they often relied on facilities and equipment provided by the university. They believe a partial tuition credit is warranted.

“As a senior art major, I was depending on having access to studio facilities in order to complete my portfolio and secure a job position post-graduation,” Aurora Schnurr wrote. “Now, without access to said facilities and without the ability to install my thesis in the TPK art gallery, I have not only been robbed of my education, but my future job prospects, and LMU has done absolutely nothing to remedy that.”

Lina Larson adds: “I’m not paying $70k to not use the edit rooms for post-production on my thesis film.”

The university, and students who created the petition, have set up separate relief funds for students having difficulty moving or having other challenges in complying with the school’s directions.

LMU’s Lion Emergency Fund, for instance, has $20,000, according to the web page for the fund.

“Hundreds of students need your help; some of them are choosing between buying their next few meals or paying for their moving expenses. We should never allow Lions to make that choice,” states the site. (The school’s mascot is Iggy the Lion.)

Student Andrea Villegas Ospina of Bogota, Colombia, returned home after three flights in four days to make it there before the Bogota airport shut down due
to the pandemic.

She felt students weren’t prioritized by LMU and that international students were forced into a situation possibly exposing them to the virus, exacerbated by “jetlag, and financial distress, and still being expected to show up to class [online] with different schedules, fulfill assignments on time, and continue to excel at school.”

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