A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled earlier this week that nearly 3,000 graduate students in the University of California system will be reimbursed about $38 million in fees that were improperly raised. The ruling, issued by Judge John Munter on Wednesday, affects about 2,900 students who applied to and accepted an offer of admission to various UC professional schools prior to Aug. 25, 2003.
Munter ruled that when those students accepted admission, UC policy on the university's Web sites and catalogs said that professional degree fees would remain constant during their entire enrollment at the school. Despite the policy, students at law, business, dentistry, medicine, veterinary, pharmacy and nursing schools throughout the UC system had fees raised during the course of their enrollment, with some increases of up to $6,400 per year.
"We disagree with the ruling," UC attorney Christopher Patti said. "We don't think the university ever made any commitment to this group of students that it would hold that fee constant, and we're looking into the possibility of an appeal."
Patti said that commitment was in fee schedules from prior years but had been taken out for the 2003-2004 academic year. However, Munter ruled that students "reasonably believed and reasonably expected" that the statement, which was set forth in the last publicly available official fee guide, would apply to them.
As a result, Munter ruled that the students were entitled to about $28.5 million, which increases to about $38 million with interest from when the fees were charged, according to Danielle Leonard, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon, the law firm that represented the students.
Munter's ruling relied on a similar case, Kashmiri v. Regents of the University of California, which applied to graduate students who enrolled prior to December 2002 who also had their fees raised. Leonard, who also represented the students in the Kashmiri case, said she was "happy that the court again recognized that the fee increases were contrary to the promise made" by the university.
Patti said along with the planned appeal of the decision, UC officials could also institute a fee increase for graduate students. A previous increase was instituted after the Kashmiri case.
"That's how the regents handled the prior case like this," he said. "But that will be up to the Board of Regents about how they want to deal with this."