Five Nigerian exchange students at Alabama State University (ASU) recently filed a federal lawsuit, accusing ASU of mistreatment and exploitation, including tuition invoices for classes they never took, inflating the cost of books and meals, and restricting their freedom of choice in purchases to a limited set of options provided by the university.
In 2013, the Nigerian government sponsored 41 of its students to attend ASU, setting up a scholarship fund worth millions of dollars that provided for the students’ expenses, including tuition fees, accommodation, feeding, health insurance, and other related costs. Each student is believed to have cost the Nigerian state about $32,000 a year.
The Daily Beast reports that while most college students are permitted to bargain shop for textbooks wherever they wish or dine at different establishments beyond the school cafeterias, the Nigerian nationals at ASU were boxed in.
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Julian McPhillips, the lawyer representing the students, said in the lawsuit that ASU violated Title VI civil rights by denying the students standard treatment as well as their basic rights to choice. He also accused ASU of mismanaging the students’ scholarship trust fund.
Earlier in the year, a federal suit compelling ASU to refund to all monies debited for services not rendered to or used by the Nigerian students was thrown out of court. One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Jimmy Iwezu, who has now completed his grad studies at ASU told the Daily Beast, “They called us cash cows,” adding, “The school compelled us to buy books from the book store and eat only at the cafeteria.”
Iwezu said ASU authorities charged each of the Nigerian students $3,000 a semester for accommodation fees to live in campus dormitories even though a number of students chose to live off-campus.
Dr. David Iyegha, a retired Nigerian professor who taught geography at ASU and served as a liaison between the Nigerian government and the university in bringing the students over to the United States, said that Nigerian authorities went to great lengths to make enough money available to guarantee a comfortable stay for the students.
However, according to Dr. Iyegha, it was a curious matter that ASU did not think to remit any excess sponsorship monies for services the students did not use in to the students’ accounts.
The ASU is defending its position about its refusal to refund excess monies. Speaking on behalf of the ASU, Kenneth Thomas was dismissive about the suit, saying, “There is no financial agreement between the university and the individual Nigerian students. If there were any refunds to be had, they would inure to the Nigerian government and not to the individual students.”
The plaintiffs, though, produced two letters from Nigerian officials allegedly giving express permission to the ASU to hand over all refunds directly to the students.
Either way, McPhillips says neither the Nigerian government nor the students have received any refunds from the university.