Students at Boston University, Suffolk University, and Harvard Law School launched petitions demanding that their schools break with prominent higher ed lobby groups, which are advocating for legislation that would immunize corporations from COVID-19-related lawsuits.
Boston, MA — This week, student organizers at three Massachusetts law schools launched petitions demanding that their universities oppose blanket corporate immunity for coronavirus-related lawsuits. Students’ opposition comes as higher education lobbying groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce push Congress to immunize big employers, including colleges and universities, against any lawsuits related to COVID-19 — including suits related to safety and health.
Next week, Congress will return from recess and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced that corporate immunity is his top priority. The American Council on Education (ACE), of which Boston, Suffolk, and Harvard Universities are members, and the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Boston and Harvard Universities are members, have both lobbied for corporate immunity. This immunity would bar students, workers, and the public from holding schools legally accountable if they fail to implement reasonable safety measures on campus. Students fear that, with corporate immunity in place, schools would flout safety best practices and turn campuses into COVID-19 hotspots.
Jess Rempe, a Boston University law student, started a petition on her campus after learning that BU was planning to not provide faculty members protective gear. “We’re paying tens of thousands of dollars every year to go to school — I think the absolute least BU could do is provide protection to its faculty, employees, and students,” she said. “Instead, they’re lobbying for immunity from lawsuits that would hold them accountable if they refused to take reasonable steps to protect our community from becoming yet another COVID-19 hotspot in the United States.”
On Monday, law students with the People’s Parity Project launched a nationwide response, opposing the effort to grant corporate interests sweeping immunity at the expense of student, faculty, and worker safety. Students from nearly a dozen law schools nationwide have joined the campaign, demanding that their schools agree to not lobby for corporate immunity, oppose current lobbying efforts, and refrain from requiring students to waive liability upon return to campus.
“I was horrified to find out that industry associations representing my school are advocating for this dangerous abdication of responsibility,” said Beth Feldstein, a student at Harvard Law School. “Under existing state law, our schools are already only legally responsible if they do something that’s ‘unreasonable’ — how can we trust them if they’re asking Congress to lower the bar even more?”
Students are also concerned about corporate immunity’s discriminatory impact. Suffolk University law student Lindsey Valente emphasized that “Black and Brown Massachusetts residents are three times more likely to be affected by the virus than white residents. Corporate immunity would put Black and Brown lives at even more risk. Our school cannot promise to address and advocate for systemic racial inequalities while simultaneously taking actions that create unnecessary, disproportionate risks for Black and Brown students, faculty, and campus workers.”