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Information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. If you have a legal problem, consult your institutional counsel or an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. Information and views presented in this blog are solely those of the individual contributors and not their employers.

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Education Law Association Conference Take 1

Just got home from the Education Law Association conference in Chicago. It was a very informative and interesting event. With me there were co-editors: Joy Blanchard, Neal Hutchens, KB Melear and Jeff Sun. I'll have some observations from the conference tomorrow. Needless to say your editors were active in presenting and presiding at the conference and I'm sure will have insights to share about the conference later this week. Cheers!


New Online Higher Education Journal

Faculty and students at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have teamed up to start a new open source scholarly journal. The journal, The Kentucky Journal of Higher Education Policy and Practice is designed to publish scholarly, peer reviewed articles, practitioner briefs from practitioners doing innovative work in higher education, works by emerging scholars and book reviews. Our first issue is up and we are actively seeking submissions for our second issue. Please check out the link below for more information. Details and requirements for the specific types of articles can be found by clicking on the "Policies" link on the left side of the page.


Interesting New Tax Case out of Ohio

Jeff Sun's and my law school alma mater made news today on an interesting property tax exemption issue. Ohio State was given property south of campus when the owner died. The testator directed that proceeds from the property be used to fund fellowships in OSU's vet school. OSU turned management of the building over to a private management company when it acquired the building. The building was then converted into private commercial and residential space. OSU claimed that because the proceeds from the building were being used for university purposes it was exempt from property tax. The Columbus School Board countered that OSU's assertion was incorrect. The administrative agency that heard the appeal found for the OSU. In its decision, a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court found that the legislature, in passing the exemption law in question, did not want courts to just look that the use of the proceeds of the building. The legislature also wanted the actual use of the building to be considered. In this case there was no evidence that the building was being used for university purposes or activities. Therefore the Ohio Supreme Court reversed and found against OSU. The actual opinion is here. Now I'm not one to be overly interested in tax law issues, however property tax payments are a significant part of "town/gown relations" and budgeting for schools that pay payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). More decisions like the Ohio Supreme Court's across the country could force universities to put more money into the communities, thereby perhaps inproving town/gown relations but constricting budgets...stay tuned...


Perhaps Garcetti was not the death knell

Chronicle story today reported that a US District judge in Louisiana ruled that LSU could not fire a scientist because of his criticism of the New Orleans levee system.

After Garcetti v. Ceballos apparently restricted a lot of the free speech rights of public employees, many scholars worried about the deleterious effects for academic free speech rights.

Last year the Fourth Circuit ruled in Adams v. UNC Wilmington that a professor could not be denied promotion because of the evangelical comments he made as a pundit.


Dear Professor: Give Me an "A" or Else . . .

Today’s Inside Highered Ed had a snippet about a business professor at Utah Valley University, a public institution, who asserts that he was dismissed from his position, following a one year probationary period, for being too tough with students in his teaching.  The Salt Lake Tribune’s story states that the professor's lawyers contend that his dismissal was justified by the university “based on student complaints that his 'capstone' course in business strategies was too rigorous and his Socratic style intimidated them.” 

I found the story especially timely on a personal level as one of the cases my higher education law class has assigned for today is Lovelace v. Southeastern Massachusetts University, 793 F.2d 419 (1st Cir. 1986).  In Lovelace, the professor claimed that he was not renewed because he refused to lower his grading standards or expectations of student performance, which resulted in students complaining that his courses were too hard and required too much work.  The First Circuit, assuming that this was a motivating reason for Lovelace’s dismissal, rejected that any violation of the professor’s First Amendment rights or academic freedom had taken place.  According to the opinion, “Whether a school sets itself up to attract and serve only the best and the brightest students or whether it instead gears its standard to a broader, more average population is a policy decision which, we think, universities must be allowed to set.”  This case is sometimes contrasted with Parate v. Isibor, 868 F.2d 821 (6th Cir. 1989), where the court held that a professor possessed a First Amendment right in assigning a grade and could not be ordered to change a grade (though a school still possessed the administrative authority to change a grade).

I haven’t seen the complaint in the Utah Valley University case but the story prompted me to think about the growing reliance on student evaluations as a component of faculty evaluations.  According to the news account, the professor alleges breach of contract and fair dealing and violation of state constitutional standards.  The issue of reliance on student evaluation seems especially important in light of consumer trends in higher education and increasing use of non-tenure track faculty members.  If you’ve followed events in Texas, there is also a push by some in that state to rely more on student evaluations in assessing faculty performance.  As some institutions have moved (or are thinking about moving) to place more weight on student evaluations in relation to faculty performance, it will be interesting to see the types of legal challenges that might emerge to challenge their use (and misuse) in faculty evaluations.