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Judge dismisses lawsuit over Mount Ida College shutdown, says officials did nothing legally wrong

Students at Mount Ida College may have been caught by surprise when the school suddenly shut last year, but they shouldn't have been and officials at the Newton school did nothing legally wrong in closing the school and selling its campus to UMass Amherst, a federal judge ruled yesterday in dismissing a suit by three students who sought damages for the sudden change in their educational careers.

\US District Court Judge Richard Stearns wrote that the three students, who had filed a suit seeking to represent all affected students against the school's president, trustees and other officials had "no standing" to sue because they failed to make their case and so he dismissed their suit, with prejudice.

Stearns dismissed allegations of fraud and misrepresentation over the failure of merger talks with Lasell College and the subsequent decision to just give up and sell off the campus to UMass Amherst. In his order dismissing the case, Stearns wrote the students failed to show that Mount Ida officials lied about finances and that if they did not divulge everything to students, well, "Mount Ida’s audited financial disclosures, which plaintiffs do not allege were inaccurate, were publicly available." He added that students, learning to research, should have been able to get at this data:

Plaintiffs provide no support for their contention that "it is incredulous . . . [to] argue that college students should have done independent research to find these financial statements, interpret them, and make decisions based on them."

And in any case, Stearns continued, the students failed to show that any of the statements that officials did make to them were lies - or that officials had an obligation or "fiduciary duty" to share financial data with students. He added that "Massachusetts courts have consistently held that no fiduciary relationship exists between a student and his or her college."

Stearns also rejected a claim by students that in shutting the school, officials broke a contract with students, one the students agreed to by paying tuition in exchange for a degree, by failing to provide the complete education they had promised to the students.

Plaintiffs fail to identify, among other things, the specific terms of the purported contract, when it was formed, and who negotiated it. Merely paying tuition in exchange for an education does not create a contract. Ultimately, the lack of specificity is fatal to plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim.

Alleged privacy violations stemming from the school's sending anonymized student information to UMass Dartmouth actually served "a legitimate purpose," to make it easier for Mount Ida students to transfer to UMass Dartmouth, and were not a privacy breach, he wrote.

Stearns also rejected a claim by students that the shutdown was illegal under the state consumer-protection law. He did not discuss several additional claims by students, writing that all the problems he had already found with their suit gave him more than enough grounds to just dismiss the whole thing.

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So what exactly is tuition for, if not an implicit contract for an education?