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What Binds a Private University to Respect My Rights?

February 7, 2021

If you attend a private university in Indiana, you may fear what will happen if someone on campus accuses you of a crime. You may have to defend yourself before a disciplinary board. But you are going to a private university, not a public one. How will you know if the university will play fair with you?

You should feel confident that the university will grant you due process if you face charges of misconduct. As FIRE explains, a university often holds itself accountable to obey its procedures through its written material.

University Handbooks and Manuals

When you sign a contract, you can hold the other party liable for a breach of contract if the other party does not honor its obligations. Your university probably did not offer a contract to you explaining its responsibilities to you. However, many private universities do explain their terms through a student handbook or a manual. These documents describe the rules of conduct for students and the rules and procedures for disciplining a student.

Enforcing a Handbook Like a Contract

Your university may try to include some leeway so you cannot strictly hold it to its judicial procedures. For example, your handbook may have a disclaimer stating that it is not a contract. An Indiana court may not go along with this argument, however.

A court could hold a university accountable through the principle of the law of contracts. The university may not have signed a contract with you, but it did make promises to you through written literature. You have decided to attend the university based upon this knowledge. A court may look at this arrangement as a kind of legal contract and may hold the university responsible for breaking any promises with you.

Enforcing Your Rights

FIRE explains that courts frequently rule that universities must enforce their judicial procedures as written or conveyed to students. Still, some courts side with universities if they enforce their rules generally but not strictly, plus courts may not always award a student monetary damages for a university failing to honor its judicial procedures. Given the fact that many courts insist that universities follow their judicial rules, you should still have recourse if you feel your university is not honoring all of your rights.

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