Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Value of Law-Related Education for Faculty and Academic Administrators in Higher Education: The Challenge of Educating Educators

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Value of Law-Related Education for Faculty and Academic Administrators in Higher Education: The Challenge of Educating Educators

Article excerpt


This paper explores some of the legal issues surrounding employment practices of faculty and academic administrators in higher education and discusses the importance of law-related education for these members of the academic community. The paper examines the conduct of faculty and administrators against the backdrop of history and law, and attempts to foster a greater awareness of the legal challenges affecting them. It is designed to educate and inform faculty and administrators about the legal implications of the decisions they make. As it explores some of the reasons given for nonparticipation in law-related training activities, the paper discusses some of the implications for adult educational programs.

The paper addresses the value of law-related education for faculty and academic administrators in higher education. In addition to providing some sources of law-related information, the paper offers recommendations for practice and suggested ways to achieve the goal of providing the necessary law-related education to faculty and academic administrators in higher education.


Higher education institutions have historically remained insulated from the lawsuits that are prevalent in the American society. There is, however, evidence to suggest that this trend may not continue (Kaplin & Lee, 1995; Toma & Palm, 1999). Thus, college and university faculty and administrators need to become aware of the steady erosion of the traditional protections against lawsuits on which institutions have relied. Faculty and academic administrators must be kept informed of the legal consequences of their actions or inaction. As the scale and complexity of individual institutions have increased, consensus has been more difficult to achieve and the courts have taken a more active role in resolving the inevitable disputes.

Higher education professionals need to understand how this growing litigious environment will impact on their roles. To help academic administrators understand their responsibilities when supervising faculty and dealing with students, this article highlights some of the most important areas of concern. In their roles, they must learn how to deal with a growing number of legal problems. Institutions need to consider whether or not their rules, regulations and policies adequately minimize their exposure to litigation. Deans and department chairs are the ones most often on the front line, with responsibility for legal issues surrounding employment relationships, students, and research, as well as for school and departmental issues such as accreditation and copyrights. Deans' and department chairs' administrative activities must be examined and considered daily in the context of legal issues that might be related to those activities. Most handbooks from human resources personnel or even from legal counsel will not adequately prepare an academic administrator for this job.

Judicial activity has produced a sizable body of school law with which educators should be familiar if they wish to conduct themselves in a legally defensive manner (LaMorte, 1999). Those educators who "'fly by the seat of their pants' or who act on the basis of what they think the law 'should be' may be in difficulty if sufficient thought is not given to the legal implications and ramifications of their policies or conduct." (LaMorte, p. xxi). These various sources point out to us the importance of being knowledgeable about the statutory and case law relating to the major employment issues in higher education.

Changes in structure, such as the modification of traditional selection and acculturation processes, greater recognition of constitutional and contractual rights, the decline of career mobility for faculty, a greater array of service functions for higher education institutions, the increase in both internal and external regulations, and the technology revolution, have contributed to colleges' and universities' increased susceptibility to litigation (Toma & Palm, 1999). …

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