Northeastern credits tuition for 11 students dismissed for breaking COVID-19 rules

But the battle over their punishment may not be over yet.

The exterior of the Westin Copley Place. The hotel now houses hundreds of students from Northeastern University.
The exterior of Westin Copley Place. The hotel now houses hundreds of students from Northeastern University. –The Boston Globe

Northeastern University is standing by its decision to dismiss 11 freshmen from campus for the semester after they were caught violating the school’s strict rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

However, the university is somewhat walking back its punishment.

In a tweet Thursday night, Northeastern officials announced that an appeals board made up of two administrators and one student “unanimously” upheld the university’s original punishment — which included not refunding the $36,500 that each of the students paid in tuition, room, and board for a “modified” first-year study-abroad program.

Still, the university said it had decided to credit the tuition portion of their fall semester expenses, $27,760, toward the spring semester, during which the students will be allowed to return. Northeastern is not crediting them the other $8,740 for room and board.

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The students still aren’t allowed to attend class remotely during the fall semester, though they will have access to “academic advising, mental health, and other support services,” Northeastern said Thursday.

The dismissed students had been caught on Sept. 2, shortly after arriving for the semester, not wearing masks or social distancing in a room at the Westin Hotel, where Northeastern is temporarily leasing rooms to provide more socially distanced housing.

University officials have defended the swift punishment, noting that the zero-tolerance rules were repeatedly made clear to students before and upon their arrival to the Boston campus.

But as The Boston Globe reported last week, the parents of two of the students hired a lawyer to challenge the decision on the basis that Northeastern’s response was “grossly disproportionate, rigid, and imperious” and mischaracterized the students’ behavior. The lawyer, Brett Joshpe, told the Globe that the students were not partying, but watching a basketball game while wearing masks.

Still, amid concerns about a resurgence of COVID-19 as college students return to the Boston area, Northeastern’s strict rules prohibit those living on campus from having any additional guests or visitors inside their assigned dorm rooms, even including neighbors within the same residential building.

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In the wake of the decision Thursday night, Joshpe told WCVB that they remain unsatisfied with the lessened punishment and suggested potential legal action.

“It is telling that Northeastern appears to have backtracked from its outrageous initial position that it is entitled to keep tuition payments from these families without ever delivering a service,” Joshpe said. “Nonetheless, the University’s response is still totally unacceptable, and we will be evaluating the options.”

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