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Judge Puts UC Hike of Fees on Hold

The injunction comes in response to a suit by some students in the university system's professional schools. About 3,000 are affected.

August 14, 2004|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge in San Francisco has barred the University of California from increasing fees this fall for about 3,000 students enrolled in UC's medical, law and other professional schools.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought by students who said the fee hikes breached a contract with them, Judge James L. Warren issued a preliminary injunction late Thursday blocking the increases for the 2004-05 school year. They would average about 30%.

The judge said the student plaintiffs had "demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits" of the case, which is expected to go to trial in the fall.

A UC spokesman, Hanan Eisenman, said the university expects to prevail when the full case is heard.

He said the fee increases, which were approved in May by the university's governing board, were necessary because of reduced state funding.

"We understand the students' concerns, but the fee increases are a product of the budget crisis," Eisenman said.

The judge's order applies only to those who enrolled in a professional degree program before 2003 and are still enrolled. Eisenman said it affects about 3,000 of the 9,000 students at the university's professional schools, which include law, medicine, business, dentistry, veterinary medicine and film.

At least for now, those students will not be required to pay fee increases for 2004-05 that would average about 30% -- or from about $3,000 to $4,500 -- more than last year.

Including that boost, new medical students, for example, will pay $4,500 more this school year, with their academic fees now totaling about $20,000.

The university was working Friday to begin lowering the fees on billing statements for the affected students, the spokesman said.

Eisenman said it could cost UC about $15 million in lost revenue.

Danielle Leonard, an attorney for the students, said the decision shows that the judge "recognizes that the harm to these students from higher fees outweighs the hardship to the university of not receiving this money."

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed a year ago by students who argued that the university violated a contract by raising professional school fees after promising in a course catalog and elsewhere that the charges would not change during the students' tenure.

The lawsuit also challenged undergraduate and other graduate student fee increases for spring and summer 2003 that took effect after some students already had registered for those terms and paid their bills.

The judge, however, did not rule on those issues, which will be argued in the trial.

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