Monday, March 17, 2014

A review of my "Handbook for Student Law" --- The new edition will be available early next month


        Reviewed by
Kerry Brian Melear
Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Mississippi, Oxford
James Ottavio Castagnera. Handbook for Student Law for Higher Education Administrators. New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2010. 255 pp. Paperback: $35.95. ISBN: 978-143-31074-12.
As American society grows increasingly litigious and courts less deferential to the academy, colleges and universities find themselves mired in an onslaught of litigation that spans a wide array of issues, from student concerns through indemnification to employment disputes and far beyond. Higher education administrators are faced with daily decisions that may result in litigation and are liable in both personal and professional capacities, based on the nature of the claim, for their decisions.
James Ottavio Castagnera has written an accessible, easily readable handbook that is intended to provide busy administrators with a resource for assessing questions and developing an understanding of the relevant legal issues regularly encountered in the course of their practice. The book’s 10 chapters focus on the treatment of student-related legal issues facing postsecondary institutions, and student affairs administrators will find the book’s easily readable tone and practical advice following topical discussion of key cases a useful starting point for exploring important legal issues.
The book’s introduction provides a brief survey of the origins and present status of U.S. higher education, then transitions into a practical discussion of the hierarchy of the law and the legal environment surrounding higher education administration. New administrators or those who would enjoy a brief refresher on the legal structures under which colleges and universities operate will find this introduction informative.
The first chapter treats issues associated with the admissions process, including relevant discussions of the importance of avoiding fraudulent misrepresentation in marketing and recruitment. Although legal concerns regarding fraudulence have primarily focused on the for-profit sector, administrators in public and private not-for-profit institutions should understand the fundamentals of avoiding liability through the conscientious observance of transparency and fair dealing with students. A helpful discussion of the influence of the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008), which has imposed substantial new requirements for colleges and universities in this area, supplements this discussion.
Chapter 2’s focus on federal financial aid and tuition policy is well placed and is intended to provide a framework for understanding the system and its function. Reproductions of federal websites related to financial aid programs illustrate that system, but this discussion would have been better served had Castagnera summarized the various programs. Also, the chapter does not extensively treat the major federal regulatory shift in the administration of financial aid resulting from the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (2010) as part of health-care reform. Because the book was published in 2010, the absence of this discussion is not surprising but remains important nonetheless.
Subsequent chapters focus on student activities, student academic standing, and academic dishonesty. These chapters provide a useful discussion of the issues surrounding the administration of student life, including tort liability arising from student organization activities and the due process requirements to be provided in student judicial cases in both the public and private sectors.
On the latter score, the chapter discusses a key U.S. Supreme Court case, Board of Curators of the University of Missouri v. Horowitz, in which the Supreme Court set the bar for academic due process [End Page 131] at a lower level than the due process to be provided a student in judicial proceedings. A discussion of Regents of University of Michigan v. Ewing, in which the Supreme Court determined that the judiciary should defer to the expertise of academia when possible, would be a useful addition to this section.
Although the doctrine of judicial deference appears to be eroding, administrators would benefit from a background in the legal position on leaving administrative decisions undisturbed when the institution has not engaged in arbitrary or capricious behavior. Nevertheless, these chapters provide a useful discussion of key issues, including a brief discussion of undocumented students, which is a subject of considerable current national debate.
The book then shifts to a focus on student issues related to alcohol and illegal drug use, discrimination, hazing, and student-to-student harassment. The cases mentioned in these chapters illustrate the challenges that colleges and universities currently face when working with large populations of young people who may become involved in activities that present danger to themselves and, if not carefully treated, also pose risks of liability for postsecondary institutions.
These chapters explore such important issues as the concept of negligence and implications for professional practice. As in other sections, Castagnera draws on published accounts of unfortunate controversies encountered by institutions of higher learning, the institutional responses, and legal challenges that can be faced as a result. Hazing has become an endemic problem on college and university campuses, and many states have passed laws intended to stem this practice. Such laws can lead to institutional liability if administrators are not careful to police hazing on their campuses. Woven throughout these chapters, as in others, is a helpful discussion of the role of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
The final chapters explore student disability concerns, student privacy, student proclivities in defying intellectual property laws through peer-to-peer file sharing, and the role of international students on U.S. college campuses. With regard to students with disabilities, the book provides an overview of the very important 2009 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act and their great impact on colleges and universities. These amendments significantly broadened the definition of a qualifying disability under the ADA, and post-secondary institutions are faced with significant challenges regarding accommodation as a result. Discussions of service animals, student mental health issues, and student learning disabilities cogently inform these topics.
Castagnera’s book provides a useful framework for administrators regarding the legal landscape of higher education related to college students. Although the full spectrum of each topic cannot be explored, the book is not intended as an exhaustive treatment but rather, as a handbook. Administrators will find here a useful starting point for learning about key legal topics facing colleges and universities relative to student issues. They can use the text to inform themselves and conduct further research as they work with university counsel to enhance student safety and insulate themselves and their institutions from liability arising from student-related disputes. 


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