November 17, 2014

Expelled Student Sues University After Cornell ‘Retroactively Rescinded’ Grants

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Updated Tuesday with a statement from the University

A student expelled from Cornell is suing the University, which alleges that she owes over thousands of dollars in “retroactively rescinded grants” for failing to note on her transcript that she attended community college for a semester.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences expelled Hyuna Choi ’14 in October 2013. According to the suit filed on May 29, the University found her “guilty of furnishing false information” to CALS. She is now suing Cornell in civil court.

In 2003, she attended Glendale Community College in California, a fact she failed to note on her application to Cornell when applying to transfer in 2012, according to court documents. After being forced to leave the University, Choi and her counsel argue that Cornell did not provide her with the opportunity to appeal to the Office of the Judicial Administrator, among other claims.

“The campus code requires that all violations of the code by a student be adjudicated through the office of the Judicial Administrator, and the accused be given the chance to have a hearing before the independently constituted Hearing Board,” court documents state.

Last week, the case saw progress after Judge Robert Mulvey ruled that all but one parts of the suit were dismissed following Cornell’s attempt to quash the case, according to court documents dated Wednesday.

“We’re extremely pleased with Justice Mulvey’s decision and look forward to the prompt disposition of Choi’s sole remaining claim,” said Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, in a statement.

‘Canceled, Effective Immediately’

According to court documents, on Oct. 22, 2013, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences learned that Choi failed to include details regarding her attendance at Glendale Community College in the fall of 2003 while investigating a cheating complaint.

Dean Kathryn Boor ’80 wrote to Choi days later, alerting her that her admission to Cornell was “canceled, effective immediately.”

“The college received information revealing that at least one significant and material portion of your application appeared to be false, i.e., you did not list all colleges and universities attended in response to the specific question asking you to ‘report all college attendance beginning with your first year of college; include all online and summer coursework,’” Boor wrote.

The suit against the University and CALS, however, claims that Boor “acted unilaterally with no formal notice to [Choi] containing an explanation of her rights, the full charges against her, nor details of the evidence the College had against her.”

The suit also claims that Choi’s omission “was not intentional” and that the “transcript would not have materially affected her admission as a transfer student.”

‘Retroactively Rescinded Grants’

Months later in January, the University reached out to Choi again.

Choi, who left South Korea with the ultimate goal of attending medical school in the United States, was faced with a letter claiming she owed Cornell over $65,000 in what the lawsuit described as “retroactively rescinded grants.”

On Jan. 29, she received a letter from Thomas Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis, that said she was found guilty of misappropriating financial aid funds.

When questioning the $67,805.50 Day Hall claimed she owed, Keane responded with a follow-up.

“But for your admission to Cornell University, you would not have been awarded financial aid from Cornell,” he wrote. “As a result, the financial aid you received was directly based upon misrepresentations or material omissions in your application for admission. Cornell University considers this to be misappropriation.”

Two weeks later, after not paying back her financial aid, she was faced with an approximately an additional $13,000 of “internal collection costs,” court documents state.

Attempts to Appeal

Choi sought to appeal the decisions made by the University, which said it would not release her transcripts until she paid her “balance,” according to court documents. When she appealed, however, it was revealed that “there was no process for an appeal from this determination through financial aid.”

In an email to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ‘88, Choi and her legal representation sought to appeal.

Grant, however, said she believed that since Cornell considered Choi’s attendance at Cornell fraudulent, she was not subject to the processes under the J.A.

“I believe this situation is outside the judicial system, though, because it seems like there was a determination that your clients never should have been students,” Grant wrote. “If they were never students, they would not be subjected to a disciplinary system that does not apply to non-students. I will confirm and get back to you when I return to the office next week.”

Now going to civil court, the suit claims that the alleged violations “are wildly disproportionate and overly harsh.”

“If these actions go unremedied, everything that [Choi] has spent the better part of the last 20 years working towards academically will be for naught, and her future career prospects and good name seriously marred,” the lawsuit claims.