Judge Orders UC to Refund Millions In Student Fees

    In a ruling finding the University of California guilty of improperly raising student fees, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ordered the university last week to repay students $33.8 million.

    The decision, which affects professional-school students systemwide and undergraduates from UC Berkeley, follows accusations by more than 50,000 students that the university breached fee contracts in the spring and summer of 2003 by raising fees without proper notice.

    The university does not consider the case to be closed, according to UC Office of the President spokesman Ricardo Vazquez.

    “The university will vigorously argue its case before a court of appeals,” Vazquez said.

    The suit, filed in 2004 by UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law alumnus Mo Kashmiri, affects more than 9,000 UC professional-school students ­— those attending dental, medical, law and veterinary schools — who were ordered to pay fee increases despite promises by the university that they would not see fees rise while completing their degrees.

    It also affects about 47,000 students from the UC system who received initial billing statements with one outstanding amount but who were later sent additional bills with higher amounts, which the judge ruled to be a breach of contract.

    Jonathan Weissglass, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that he anticipated the verdict and called the March 6 ruling a success.

    “It’s a great victory for those students who were affected,” he said. “They will be reimbursed for money that they were improperly charged.”

    The judge, James Warren, had solidly indicated a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Weissglass said.

    The university appreciates the court’s effort, but it does not believe that it breached any contracts because university policy states that fees can be changed without notice, according to Vazquez.

    Vazquez said that although the university also expected the verdict, it would not pay out any reimbursement money until an appeals court has had its say.

    “The ruling prevents the university from raising UC fees for those plaintiffs but not anybody else, and there will be no reimbursements until all appeals are exhausted,” he said.

    In the past four years, the UC Board of Regents increased professional-student fees to double what they were during the 2002-03 academic year. Those fee hikes were part of a number of increases that have affected all students enrolled in the university.

    Vazquez said the fee increases were justified by the state’s budget crisis.

    “The university understands student concerns, but difficult times called for fee increases,” he said. “An unprecedented budget crisis forced the university to make tough decisions in a short time.”

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