As a part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “Will the university pay for my tuition if I get hit by a bus?”
It might be the first question on many students’ minds when they see a StarTran bus zip down Vine Street on its way to drop off students at their classes on East Campus.
For most, the thought isn’t a death wish — it’s genuine curiosity as the result of a widespread rumor circling around campus. The tale proposes that negligent bus drivers who hit students will cause the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to fork over thousands of dollars in tuition money. Allegedly, the monetary compensation is a four-year-long appeasement from the university to victims who were unfortunate enough to catch an up-close-and-personal glance of a campus bus’ rolling tires.
The speculation is not just a UNL phenomenon and is posed as an inquiry at other universities as well.
A University of Illinois student’s experience went viral after she was run over by a campus bus on Aug. 29. She lay in a hospital bed shortly after her accident and dealt with her traumatic experience in the best way she knew how: She tweeted a selfie.
“Yesterday, I finally achieved what every single college student in America has dreamed of,” the caption read. “That’s right. I got run over by a campus bus.”
UI refuted the rumor that the student received tuition from the university, and both parties agreed the social media post was meant to be humorous. The student stated it was purely in jest — a jab at the national rumor. However, this did not stop the social media world from perpetuating the idea that students can receive tuition if they’re willing to jump in front of buses. Many college students across the U.S. believe that if they too become campus roadkill, they will be subject to a free college experience.
If the rumor is true, it then poses a dilemma for any student who is thousands of dollars in debt: Do I sacrifice my bones to pay off my student loans?
However often students may ask themselves this question, it seems jumping in front of a moving bus is not the best way to win monetary compensation. Far from it, even, according to Leslie Reed, the UNL director of public affairs.
Unfortunately for those considering taking the action, Reed stated that it will not automatically result in freedom from student debt. The matter involves more personal legal avenues than university-affiliated ones.
But could it ever equate to free tuition — perhaps in a special circumstance? Reed said because the university does not own its own buses and relies on StarTran, Lincoln’s bus company, to shuttle their students, the legal implications are dependent on the situation. Bus drivers on UNL’s campus are employed by the city, not the university. What would happen next varies based on the individual event and would be an insurance matter.
“We can’t speculate on what would happen if a student were hit by a bus,” Reed said. “Legal cases involving personal injury are complicated and based on individual circumstances. They are resolved by insurance carriers, attorneys and the court system … In short, a bus accident is not a way to get your tuition and housing paid.”
Though the scarlet and cream vehicles are covered with Husker decals to show their school spirit, these steel beasts are not to be trifled with. Campus buses make sure to brake for students in crosswalks, acknowledging that a hit from a fast-moving vehicle that size could mean a serious injury, possibly with drastic consequences that scholars would want to avoid.
Since beginning his career at the university in 2012, Jeffrey White, director of Association of Students of the University of Nebraska Student Legal Services, said he has yet to deal with a case involving a UNL student getting hit by a bus.
“I have never seen anyone get hit by a bus,” White said. “Cars? Definitely. A bicycle? Surprisingly, yes. But not a bus.”
White also stated that UNL would have no legal responsibility to the bus drivers’ negligent actions and said that an insurance claim would be submitted to the city. The case would then be reviewed by the victim’s personal injury lawyer.
Both Reed and White agree that the university has no obligation to offer students tuition after the accident has occurred, and it’s most likely that the case would bypass UNL altogether.
This being said, White said he understands where the fascination with student bus injuries comes from. He can empathize with the hopelessness that can come from the crushing weight of student debt.
“College is hard, and most students are financially vulnerable. That's why our office exists. Students need legal help all the time, but who can afford to pay a lawyer as a student?” he said. “I think urban legends like this find a nice home in students' minds for the same reason people like to play the ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ game. When life is hard, it helps to imagine things that would make it less hard.”
This article was modified on Nov. 12 at 2:00 p.m. to correct the spelling of the word "brake."
This article was modified on Nov. 20 at 4:08 p.m. to correct the university of the student who was ran over by a bus.