Higher Education Law: The Faculty

By Hamilton, Neil W. | Academe, November/December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Higher Education Law: The Faculty


Hamilton, Neil W., Academe


Higher Education Law: The Faculty

Steven G. Poskanzer. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002

NEIL W. HAMILTON

For thirty-five years, the legal profession has required new entrants to pass a course and a section of the bar examination on the law governing the profession. Meanwhile, the academic profession has done little in this direction, assuming instead that osmosis will occur between senior mentors and their proteges to socialize and inform the proteges about these issues. The result is widespread ignorance and misunderstanding, even among senior academic administrators, about the law governing the profession.

Higher Education Law: The Faculty addresses this ignorance, describing clearly, for both lawyers and nonlawyers, the central legal principles governing the activities of faculty and the routine academic affairs of colleges and universities. The major sections of the book cover the law relating to faculty as scholars, teachers, institutional citizens, public citizens, and employees. This book achieves the preventive law goals both of assisting faculty and administrators to avoid legal problems and of helping them to understand when they need legal counsel.

Three chapters merit particular attention. The initial chapter on the lay of the land provides an understandable and much-needed review of the major sources of law governing the academic profession: the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, federal agency regulations, and case law from federal and state courts. This chapter clears up a misconception widely held in academia by explaining that the First Amendment of the Constitution applies only to government, not private, entities. Thus it protects freedom of speech only for professors at public colleges and univershies, not those at private institutions. In contrast, professors at both private and public institutions enjoy the protection of contract law, which includes the contractual provisions set forth in their letters of appointment, notices of salary increases, collective bargaining agreements and faculty handbooks where those exist, and official statements by trustees or senior administrators, as well as consistent patterns of administrative conduct.

The chapter on scholarship provides an excellent overview of the law regarding both the ownership and exploitation of faculty work, including copyrights and patents and the dissemination of and access to scholarly work. The chapter on faculty as employees includes a lengthy overview of nondiscrimination law that clearly explains a complex and layered area of law. This section should, in particular, be mandatory reading for all graduate students, professors, and administrators.

Although Poskanzer identifies academic freedom as a recurrent theme throughout the book, and notes that "the core academic business" is "largely entrusted to faculty," the book's chief weakness is that it provides little analysis of the integrated relationships among the mission to create knowledge (which is unique to the university and not present in secondary education), the employment conditions of free discourse among competent professionals necessary to create knowledge (known as academic freedom), peer review as the linchpin of academic freedom, and both shared governance and tenure as the negotiated mechanics of peer review so that the faculty can exercise professional judgment to protect the creation of competent knowledge. Poskanzer recognizes that academic tradition came before the common law's development of academic freedom, but the book provides little analysis or clarity concerning academic tradition, noting principally that "academic freedom, which is loaded with different meanings and encrusted with tradition, began as a non-legal, non-American, and nonconstitutional notion.

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