University of Iowa undergraduate Ben Muller filed a class action lawsuit today in Polk County District Court, charging that the university "revoked its scholarship offers to Plaintiff and the putative class without warning, without due process, and without just compensation." Muller is among 3,015 undergraduates who learned last week that the University of Iowa was discontinuing five scholarship programs to help cover losses in state funding. Scroll down to read the full seven-page court filing, which alleges multiple violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
In a news release also enclosed below, attorney Steve Wandro described the university's action as "not only immoral, but illegal as well." Jon Muller, the plaintiff's father, said, "What has occurred here is insane. My son’s decision to attend the University of Iowa was partially based on his being awarded a scholarship."
Attorneys have scheduled meetings in West Des Moines and Iowa City this Saturday for "students, parents of students, and interested alumni to discuss their concerns and legal options." The press release includes details on meeting locations and times.
The plaintiff is asking for a jury trial. A Facebook page created to support a class-action filing has nearly 250 likes.
My hunch is that University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and his advisers will come up with a face-saving way out of this mess before Muller and other members of his class have their day in court. A trial pitting the university against students, most of whom are children of alumni, would generate massive terrible publicity.
After Harreld figures out how to cover the $4,343,699 the university planned to save by canceling the current students' scholarships, he needs to deal with an extra $1,237,500 reduction in state funding before June 30. The Branstad administration announced additional mid-year cuts to higher education last Friday.
UPDATE: Added below details on a second class-action lawsuit that undergraduate Jenna Pokorny filed in Johnson County District Court on February 27.
February 27 press release:
FIRST CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST U OF IA FOR REVOKING SCHOLARSHIPS
Concerned students & parents holding statewide meetings this weekend.
Des Moines, Iowa – Wandro & Associates, P.C. & Erbe Law Firm filed a class action lawsuit in Polk County District Court against the University of Iowa, representing the plaintiff, Benjamin Muller, one of over 2,500 Iowa students whose scholarship was abruptly and without warning taken away.
“What has occurred here is insane. My son’s decision to attend the University of Iowa was partially based on his being awarded this scholarship,” said Jon Muller. It is the first lawsuit filed against the University of Iowa by students and parents affected by the decision to renege on $4.3 million scholarship offers to Iowans.
“Revoking these scholarships is blatantly illegal and it is particularly troubling to see Iowa students being treated as political pawns,” said Steve Wandro, President of Wandro & Associates, a class action and litigation law firm in Des Moines.
The Iowa Scholarship Class Action Network (ISCAN) along with the Wandro & Associates will be holding statewide meetings this Saturday in West Des Moines and Iowa City inviting students, parents of students, and interested alumni to discuss their concerns and legal options. (Locations listed below)
ISCAN https://www.facebook.com/IowaScholarshipClassActionNetwork/ is a grassroots organization founded by Jon Muller of Des Moines, who son, Benjamin, a freshman at the University of Iowa, lost his automatically renewable $1,500 (fifteen-hundred dollar) Heritage Scholarship.
“I look forward to discussing this matter with more affected students and their families at our weekend meetings. We expect a large group attending in Des Moines and Iowa City locations,” said Mr. Wandro.
West Des Moines: March 4 @10:00 AM, Hilton Garden Inn, 2205 S. 64th. Street Iowa City: March 4 @ 3:30 PM, Robert A. Lee Recreation Center, 220 S. Gilbert St., Social Hall
UPDATE: Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on February 28,
A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims the university "breached its contractual duties" to students who were recently informed that their four-year scholarships will be eliminated next fall. It seeks class-action status and an order blocking the cuts from going into effect.
"I was guaranteed this and now it has been taken away," said Jenna Pokorny, a sophomore slated to lose $6,000 in scholarships during her final two years in school. She said the awards persuaded her to attend UI instead of Drake University, which had offered her a full-tuition scholarship. [...]
When notified of the awards, students were told that they had to enroll full-time and keep a 2.0 grade point average to receive the discount on tuition and mandatory fees, which total nearly $9,000 for in-state students. The university added language to its website last month warning that scholarships could be cut in response to reductions in state funding. [...]
Pokorny's attorney, James Larew, said he suspects the university made a political miscalculation by cutting the scholarships, and he hopes the school will reassess the decision without the need for court intervention.
SECOND UPDATE: Larew provided the court filing on behalf of Pokorny, enclosed below. Click through to read the four exhibits also submitted to the court: the university's Iowa Heritage Award letter, President's Award letter, Iowa Heritage Award elimination letter, and President's Award elimination letter.