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Legal Issues in Higher Education

According to White (2005), there are various legal issues that may affect the work of faculty college members. These may include faculty employment, gender discrimination, copyright infringement, and free expression among others. White also identifies sexual harassment, sexual orientation, and possession of weapons as legal issues that affect college administrators as they deal with student affairs. According to Janosik (2011), the kind of rules and regulations that academic institutions promulgate will be affected by the constitutional law. On the other hand, contract law impinges on the kind of business relationship between administrators and students or other faculty members. In managing the facilities of the institutions and supervising student events, administrators will need to be knowledgeable about law of torts.

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Dealing with students with disabilities in many schools is a challenge and a lot of caution should be taken to avoid unnecessary law suits. In the U.S for example, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) enacted in 1997 mandates institutions to develop individual education programs (IEPs) for each child with disability. A faculty member may attract law suits when there is conflict about the content of the IEPs or even what constitutes reasonable accommodation of the disabled students under the American with Disability Act of 1990. If the faculty member performs an act that is viewed as not accommodating the needs of a disabled student, the result may be a law suit that may target the concerned faculty member as an individual or even the whole college may be sued (Janosik, 2011).

Although many legal issues that are encountered in private schools are similar to the ones in public schools, there are some differences. Many private institutions have been allowed a leeway in some areas that would attract a host of law suits in public institutions. For example, institutions that are owned and managed by religious denominations have been allowed to institute strict code of conduct that govern their staff and those of their students. These institutions justify their strict rules on the assumption that the teacher is a representative of the church and is therefore the church’s minister in the school. Recently in the US, a high school teacher sued her former school after it fired her for getting pregnant outside wedlock. The defendant in justifying its action argued that the teacher had violated the school’s moral clause and because of her pregnancy, she could not act as the schools Christian role model (Smith, 2012). Although the affected teacher and her lawyer are working toward filing a discrimination suit against the school, their case may be complicated by the fact that the Christian Academy is a private school. In its recent rulings, the U.S Supreme Court has defended the right of Christian schools to exert more influence on their employees in terms of engaging their services or terminating their employment because they consider teachers to be “ministers in the classroom.

Apart from the common legal issues, college administrators can benefit from knowledge of law through putting these skills into various uses. For example, third party groups may want to suppress freedom of speech in institutions of higher learning. Knowing the law will help the faculty members to protect themselves against infringement of their right to free speech in the classroom. Some groups may even try to intimidate researchers not to release research findings or not to share them with other people. It is very important for faculty members and administrators of academic institutions to be well equipped with law skills so as to defend themselves and also their institution when need arises.

References

Janosik, S. M. (2011). Anticipating Legal Issues in Higher Education. NASPA Journal, 42 (4), 401-414.

Smith, C. (2012).Former coach of the year fired from Christian school for out-of-wedlock pregnancy, Web.

White, L. (2005). Which issues will keep colleges busy in the year 2012? The Chronicle of Higher Education, B1-4.

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