Five California State University (CSU) students were allowed to proceed on behalf of more than 200,000 of the CSU student population in a class action lawsuit Jan. 6 against the CSU trustees. The lawsuit is being brought as a result of the unexpected Fall 2009 student fee increase that occurred after students had already paid, showing a new form of student protest: litigation.
The case, Keller v. Board of Trustees of the CSU, comes after a similar University of California case, Kashmiri v. Regents of the UC, which also had students fighting an unexpected fee increase after students had already been billed.
Jonathan Weissglass, one of the attorneys for the Keller case as well as for the prior Kashmiri case, said both cases are “about the same principle.”
“Here’s your bill, you’re required to pay this much, and then you tell them, ‘Well, actually now you’re required to pay more,’” Weissglass said. “So billing them twice for the same term, and that’s what we say the university cannot do.”
There was also another case concerning the Fall 2009 fee increases with only one plaintiff, Angela Yuen Uyeda, who sued San Francisco State University for similarly paying tuition, then having to pay more. Uyeda lost the case. Weissglass said this case is unrelated to Keller.
“That was a small claims case,” Weissglass said. “She wasn’t represented by a lawyer. And it was only her, and this involves, you know, a couple hundred thousand students.”
Though Uyeda’s case was lost, the more similar Kashmiri case was won, which Weissglass said makes him optimistic for Keller.
“Well, we think that based on contract principles and the case against University of California that what the trustees did here was improper,” Weissglass said.
If Keller is also won, all of the students affected would get refunds, Weissglass said.
However, Cal Poly students are not being represented in the case, along with Stanislaus, East Bay and Pomona. Weissglass said this is because Cal Poly and the other omitted schools were on a different fee schedule.
“My understanding is that Cal Poly students were not required to pay before the fee was increased, so it wouldn’t affect them,” Weisglass said. “But most of the Cal State campuses, students were required to pay and then they were required to pay again.”
Though Cal Poly students will not be represented in the case, there are still ways to express any dissatisfaction with the fee increases.
Miles Nevin, the executive director for the California State Student Association (CSSA), said students need to “get their voices heard.”
“I think that students need to lobby at a local level, they need to write, they need to send a Facebook message to their legislator on a local level and let them know their opinion,” Nevin said. “I think they also need to do it on a statewide level, be in the capital and do things with CSSA, and just make sure their voices are heard.”
Nevin also said he thought the CSU Trustees “absolutely” listen to students, especially with two student trustees on the board, one of whom can vote.
“I think the members of the board of trustees are people who care about public higher education in California, and that’s why they are in the positions they are in,” Nevin said. “We do have a close working relationship with them.”
Yet, if the Keller case is successful, Nevin said it would change the trustees way of raising fees.
“I think if the CSU were to lose the case then it will affect the decisions the trustees make in the future,” Nevin said.
Weisglass also said if the Keller case is successful, it would change things.
“I think what’s important here is that the trustees give the students advance notice about what fees are going to be so that students can prepare,” Weisglass said.
Weisglass said the Keller case, however, is still in the preliminary stages, but “this is important part of the case” and they are “looking forward now to proceeding to get a final decision.”
Michael Uhlenkamp, the director of media relations and new media for the CSU Chancellor’s Office, said at this early stage, there is “not much to comment on.”
“We are disappointed, but are examining all of our options as we move forward,” Uhlenkamp said.