Former students sue college that abruptly closed
BOSTON (AP) — Students who attended a Massachusetts college that abruptly shut its doors filed a class-action lawsuit Monday against the school and former administrators and trustees, alleging they were victims of fraud, misrepresentation and invasion of privacy.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, alleges that Mount Ida College officials deliberately misled students about the severity of its financial problems before it closed in May following the breakdown of merger talks with nearby Lasell College. Mount Ida’s physical campus in Newton was sold for $75 million to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which is using the site for career development programs for its students.
Mount Ida students were forced to hastily find alternative institutions and some were left with credits or degree programs that could not be transferred while others lost out on scholarships or financial aid, according to three former students named as plaintiffs. They are seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.
“The fallout was catastrophic,” the lawsuit said, adding that steps could have been taken to avoid the situation.
By abruptly closing, “Mount Ida denied its students the opportunity to continue with their bargained for education, and their actions prevented some students from enrolling in other institutions of higher education or pursuing their intended degrees altogether,” the students argued.
The claims were challenged in a brief statement issued Monday by the college and its board of trustees.
“The allegations by three former students, which rely upon incorrect information published erroneously in old media stories and statements twisted out of context, are meritless and will be vigorously defended by the college, its former officers, and its trustees, all of whom worked compassionately and tirelessly to provide realistic transition opportunities for all students following the college’s closure,” the statement read, adding the school was cooperating in an ongoing investigation by state Attorney General Maura Healey.
The lawsuit cites public testimony from Carmen Reiss, the former chairwoman of the trustees, as evidence that officials concealed the true extent of the school’s financial woes from accepted and incoming students.
“Did we go out and announce, ‘Hello, interested students, we’re teetering on the brink of insolvency, but come on in?’ No, we didn’t do that because we believed we had a plan that was going to mean the college was going to survive and continue into the future,” Reiss said during a state Senate oversight hearing in May.
Reiss and the school’s former president, Barry Brown, are among ex-administrators named in the suit. Messages left with Reiss on Monday and with a lawyer who has represented Brown were not immediately returned.
In an interview with The Boston Globe in July, Brown blamed Mount Ida’s shutdown on a last-minute change of terms in the proposed merger with Lasell. He said school administrators were so confident the merger would take place they accepted a new class of students.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs also allege that Mount Ida illegally provided University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, which offered transfers to Mount Ida students who were in good standing at the time of the closure, with private academic information about the students. The suit accuses Mount Ida of using its students as “an incentive in the land transaction” with UMass.
More than 200 of Mount Ida’s approximately 1,500 students transferred to UMass-Dartmouth, which was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. A spokesman said Monday the university had no comment.