Universities and Other Institutions of Higher Learning

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Constitutional Claims and Civil Rights

Retired university professor sued various parties for defamation and violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The defendant university held an auction for faculty office space, with the proceeds going to a departmental discretionary fund under the sole control of the department chair. After complaining about the auction, the professor received below average evaluations from the department chair. Held: For the professor in part and for the university in part. The professor failed to show that his complaints were protected speech under the First Amendment. However, the professor's claim that defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process under the law had enough merit to proceed to trial. Also, the professor's defamation claim was allowed to proceed to trial. Stiner v. U. of Delaware, 243 F. Supp. 2d 106 (D. Md. 2002).

Professor sued university, alleging his termination was in violation of his constitutional right to free speech. A professor accused his superior of fraud in relation to a research proposal he submitted, an issue that was ultimately resolved. Three years later, the professor was told that his position as an assistant professor would not be renewed. Held: For the professor in part and the university in part. Enough evidence existed in the record to support the jury's finding that the termination was related to the professor's protected speech. The order to reinstate the professor was not found to be based on the professor's subjective thought about what his position had been, so the order to reinstate him was upheld. Texas A&M U. Sys. v. Luxemburg, 93 S.W.3d 410, (Tex. App. 2002).

Medical student brought due process claim against university, alleging it illegally placed him on leave of absence. The university voluntarily placed student on leave of absence after a period of poor academic and clinical performance without a hearing. The student sued, claiming the university had violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. The university claimed immunity under the Eleventh Amendment's sovereign immunity clause. Held: For the university in part, for the student in part. The University voluntarily participated in the early stages of the legal action, and as such, waived sovereign immunity. However, because student was completely aware of his probation and availed himself of every opportunity afforded to dispute the probation, the university did not violate the student's Fourteenth Amendment rights. Ku v. St. of Tennessee, 322 F.3d 431 (6th Cir. 2003).

Non-tenured professor sued university, alleging violation of freedom of speech and due process. Several female graduate students lodged complaints against the professor due to his behavior at an academic conference. The university investigated the complaint, and recommended that the professor be dismissed due to his actions. Held: For the university. The professor's actions and comments were related to private concerns, which are not covered by freedom of speech. Since the professor was a non-tenured employee, his position was strictly probationary. The university had the right to dismiss a probationary employee without any violation of due process. Trejo v. Shoben, 319 F.3d 878 (7th Cir. 2003).

Professor sued university, alleging violations of due process and freedom of speech. The professor received a notice of dismissal due to an alleged disclosure of student information. The professor challenged the notice, but the university dismissed the professor anyway. The professor then challenged the dismissal to the State Board of Education, which supported the university. The professor also claimed that the university dismissed her due to her criticism of administrative actions. Held: For the university. The professor had adequate notice of her dismissal as well as several opportunities to challenge it, so her due process rights were not violated. …