Legal Issues

Northwestern University and College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), Case No. 13-RC-121359 (2014)

The AAUP filed an amicus brief with the National Labor Relations Board arguing that graduate assistants at private sector institutions should be considered employees with collective bargaining rights. In its amicus brief, the AAUP argued that the board should overrule the test of employee status applied in Brown to graduate assistants, but did not take a position as to whether the unionization of college football players was appropriate.

Improving the Legal Landscape for Unionization at Private Colleges and Universities

University and college faculty have a long history of acting collectively. Countering the stereotype of the individual researcher in the lab, the centennial of the AAUP reminds us of the organizational origins of faculty rights of academic freedom and shared governance. Throughout these one hundred years, faculty have organized and acted collectively to protect these rights through faculty senates, college and university committees, AAUP advocacy chapters, and unionization and collective bargaining.

Garcetti and Salaita: Revisiting Academic Freedom

This article revisits the legal concept of academic freedom in the wake of Professor Steven Salaita’s dehiring and the 2006 US Supreme Court decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. It examines four key post-Garcetti decisions, each of which illustrates a potential solution to courts facing issues of academic freedom, and each of which has different implications for Professor Salaita’s dehiring. The article also proposes a new legal concept of academic freedom that would empower rather than restrict professors.

Rethinking Academic Boycotts

Politically inspired boycotts are a powerful form of protest. Free speech, as the US Supreme Court has recognized, includes “the opportunity to persuade to action.” Boycotts are one such opportunity: they aim “to bring about political, social, and economic change” through advocacy, petition, and association with others in a common cause.

Negotiating Academic Freedom: A Cautionary Tale

In recent years, there has been a growing concern among academics that traditional protections of academic freedom have been eroded by increasingly intrusive and somewhat ill-informed court decisions. The most recent and prime example of this is the Garcetti v. Ceballos decision by the US Supreme Court and, more alarmingly, its progeny in other courts. Those decisions, and their implications, are the subject of a recently released AAUP special report, Protecting an Independent Faculty Voice: Academic Freedom after Garcetti v. Ceballos. In brief, the Garcetti decision said that in the course of carrying out one’s public employment responsibilities, an employee did not have First Amendment protections of free speech outside the classroom.

Butler University v. John Doe: A New Challenge to Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

What are the circumstances that would lead a university to act against its own self-interest, and negate its most basic values, including its commitment to academic freedom? This is perhaps the most urgent question posed by the libel lawsuit Butler University v. John Doe.

The trend for universities to rely more and more heavily on legal processes to regulate their affairs and conduct their business has been widely observed and well documented. In her book The Trials of Academe: The New Era of Campus Litigation (2009), Amy Gajda writes that “the growing recourse to the courts by academics, and the increasing willingness of judges to accept the invitation and resolve campus disputes, pose a substantial threat to [the] heart of academic self-governance.”1 Even in the context of this trend, however, the Butler case stands out, and raises the question of how far universities are willing to go in legalizing their campuses.

Legal Watch: Rethinking the Standard for Discharging Student Debt

Student-loan debt—now totaling more than $1.3 trillion—has garnered increased public attention, including in the recent presidential campaign. An important aspect of policy debates over that debt is what happens to borrowers unable to repay. With most forms of consumer debt, discharge in bankruptcy provides one option for struggling borrowers. But this alternative is often unavailable in the case of student loans, as borrowers must satisfy a stringent legal test known as the undue hardship standard to qualify for discharge.

Legal Watch: Resistance in the ICE Age

Almost immediately after taking office, President Donald Trump began carrying out his preelection threats against immigrants. His administration has a dual-pronged strategy: creating broad bans on entry into the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries and escalating US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations of undocumented persons residing in the United States. Both prongs severely affect individuals and families targeted by the administration on the basis of religion and ethnicity.


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