Magazine article University Business

Parents Proceed with MIT Case

Magazine article University Business

Parents Proceed with MIT Case

Article excerpt

A JUDGE'S RULING IN A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE of Technology has set off an alarm in higher education. The parents of Elizabeth Shin, a sophomore who committed suicide in 2000 by setting herself on fire in her dorm room, were told they could proceed with some of their claims against MIT in a $27 million lawsuit. The case likely will go to trial later this year.

Attorneys for universities and colleges have been watching the MIT case closely for several years because of the debate it raises about an IHE's responsibility for students' well-being. Sadly, suicides and student deaths happen on campuses large and small. The trend has been for IHEs to offer more counseling services to students, as MIT did with Shin. But how responsible is a university to monitor the mental health of students? What is the responsibility if, as in the Shin case, a student commits suicide after receiving treatment? There is no clear answer, but more guidelines will unfold as the case continues through the legal system.

In the most recent decision against MIT, Judge Christine McEvoy, a Middlesex Superior Court Judge, dismissed in August some of the suit's claims directly against MIT. She did rule, though, that the parents' lawsuit could proceed against four psychiatrists at MIT and two university administrators who are not mental health professionals. It reportedly is unusual to hold nonclinicians accountable for a person's mental health, but this lawsuit, specifically, can go for ward against the housemaster of Shin's student residence and a student life dean. …

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