A group of former students filed a class action lawsuit against the University over one of GW’s online graduate programs last week.
Four students who received master’s degrees from the College of Professional Studies in security and safety leadership filed a lawsuit against GW in D.C. Superior Court on April 7. The complaint alleges that the students did not receive the instruction they were guaranteed when they registered for the program.
The former students are suing GW for unjust enrichment, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, and for allegedly violating the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act, according to the complaint. The complaint does not name an amount of money the students to receive – in class-action suites, a jury determines payment amounts.
GW markets the online and in-person versions of the program as identical, the complaint shows, but the former students believe the education they received was “far inferior, but more costly, to the in-class program” and forced the students to “fend for themselves” in learning the material.
The former students are suing on behalf of all students who have taken the courses or are currently enrolled in the program, according to the complaint. Three of the students who filed the lawsuit graduated from the program in 2012 and paid more than $28,000 in tuition, and the fourth graduated in 2013 and paid more than $40,000.
The former students request GW pay back money that they believe GW received as “disgorgement of unjust profits,” and other damages and fees, according to the document. They asked for statutory and punitive damages, in addition to monetary damages for “unjust profits,” according to the complaint.
University spokeswoman Candace Smith said in an email that the University has not had a chance to respond to the lawsuit in court. She said the University cannot comment on specific cases involving current or former students because of federal privacy laws.
Smith said 341 students have graduated with degrees from the program since GW began offering it in 2009. She added that “many have gone onto successful careers in the military, law enforcement and other government agencies.”
“Overall, the program has been successful for many of our students,” she said.
Brice Bradford, David Forman, Casey Schreiber and Kenneth Bell filed the lawsuit. Forman declined to comment, deferring to his lawyer. Bradford, Schreiber and Bell did not return requests for comment.
The complaint includes examples of some of the complaints that students in the course made to instructors in 2012. In November of that year, Bradford emailed Lemieux about the program’s quality.
“For what we’re paying, it is simply very disappointing, and perpetually frustrating,” Bradford wrote, according to the document.
The complaint alleges that the students took classes without instruction from professors assigned to the class. It also alleges that their materials included “often nonsensical PowerPoint slides pilfered from other instructors’ in-class lessons” for the 12 online courses.
“There remains one crucial difference between the two programs: the in-class program actually provides instruction, while the online version does not,” according to the complaint.
Students in the program were promised professors who “specialized in distance learning,” but the complaint alleges that instructors were not qualified to teach online courses.
“The instructors were consistently unresponsive and demonstrated an unfamiliarity with the subject matter and material,” the complaint reads.
The complaint also states that 11 students who took the course in 2013 wrote a letter to University President Steven Knapp complaining about the quality of the course. After Knapp received the letter, the dean of CPS called several of the students and apologized for the dysfunction and offered to make amends, but GW did nothing to improve the situation, according to the complaint.
Frederic Lemieux, the program director of the program, said in an email to students on April 9 that the University does not agree with the students’ allegations in the complaint and will respond in court, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Hatchet.
“Please be aware that the University disagrees with these former students’ allegations and does not believe they have any valid legal claims against GW,” Lemieux said in the email. He declined requests for further comment on the suit, deferring to the University.
The complaint lists eight ways GW allegedly misrepresented the program through advertisements to students, including a claim that the program is “universally lauded by alumni.” The complaint states that there were no alumni during the time this was advertised.
Hassan Zavareei, the lawyer for the former students, said in an email that the classes were a “fraud and a clear violation of the DC Consumer Protection Act.”
“This is an important and serious case because it implicates two critical issues: national security and online education,” Zavareei said. “Factually and legally, however, the case is quite simple.”
Joe Konig contributed reporting.
This article appeared in the April 14, 2016 issue of the Hatchet.