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Foundations for Safety and Success






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The law as it relates to higher education will continue to develop in its complexity, and student affairs professionals will need to be alert to practices and activities that manage risk. Our society has become increasingly immersed in legal issues, and student affairs staff members at both public and private institutions must be equipped to help manage risk and protect their institutions, the students they serve, and their resources from unintended consequences. There is every reason to believe that the management of those risks will become an increasingly central aspect of the work in student affairs in the future.

This book is intended to present risk management concepts and relevant legal issues in a way that student affairs administrators, who are generally not trained in the law, can readily understand and apply. The need for such a resource is significant, as evidenced by the growth in the number of conferences, programs, and special workshops that are associated with risk management and legal issues in student affairs and higher education. The profession of student affairs does not need another complex, technical book on legal and risk management issues associated with student affairs. The best materials that are already published in these topical areas are serving that purpose. The profession does need, in our view, a resource written by practitioners in the field for practicing professionals, while still addressing the full context of the law and of risk management.

The contribution of this text is less about new information than about organization and tone, which is suited to the audiences for which it is intended. The book is organized around general areas of risk, including issues associated with legal risks, as well as risks associated with resource management. The tone of the book is intended to be more informal than many books related to the subject, with a focus on discussion and views about risk from a general and broad view, rather than pressing into court decisions and the complicated nuances of law. Hence, the reader will find very few footnotes and legal citations, as would be appropriate for other more technical books on the topic. Instead, we provide an annotated reference list of useful general sources for perspective about law, so those interested in more details or context about a matter discussed in the text can conduct further research.

The primary target population for this book is student affairs professionals, principally those who are in the earlier stages of their careers or in middle management in their organizations. A secondary audience is students in graduate programs designed to prepare students to serve as student affairs professionals.

This book is intended to help practitioners understand the sources of risk in their work and the practices and strategies that they can employ to manage risk. The institutions that employ them will derive a secondary benefit, because good practices will help them avoid risk and the associated consequences, which can range from actual losses to increased costs of insurance. In other words, if student affairs professionals can be proactive and help manage risk in what they do, it is more likely than not that the negative consequences of poor risk management will be reduced.

It is clear that student affairs professionals must be aware of how decisions and practices can create risk for themselves and their institutions, and they should be informed about strategies for addressing risk. The work of student affairs has become very complicated, and exposure to risk is much more evident than it was a decade ago. Our intent in producing this book is to provide a framework for understanding and managing risk, and we hope the readers find the text useful as a general guide to decision making as it relates to legal and resource risk management.

Another factor associated with discussing risk management is the variation between states. The culture of a state in New England is rather different from one of a state in the Southwest. The people in those states elect very different sorts of legislators, who write different kinds of laws and select unlike sorts of judges. They also form different juries. Therefore, there is not one uniform approach to managing risk. The context in which a student affairs professional works, including the state and even the local government and norms, can set the tone for the best approach. We wrote this book to help student affairs professional see the basic principles of risk management from high above the clouds, not at street level, because we are all on different streets.

The book is organized into seven parts. Each focuses on an area of law or practice that is a source of risk. The chapters within each part focus on specific ways in which risk presents itself and the strategies student affairs professionals can employ to manage the identified risks.

Part One discusses the framework for the consideration of risk management, detailing the substantial differences between public institutions and private ones and also presenting the factors that may discern between the risk that an individual administrator may face and risk taken by the employing institution.

Part Two covers risk associated with the United States Constitution, specifically principles associated with freedom of expression, weapons policies, search and seizure, and due process. Part Three addresses regulatory challenges that institutions and individuals working in higher education must manage. This part largely covers federal regulatory oversight, but it also addresses private organizations with which institutions may have relationships and obligations.

Part Four covers tort issues, those circumstances under which an individual or a group may feel that a wrongful act has caused them harm and they seek redress. Part Five addresses contract issues, those which institutions have with students, with organizations, and with employees. Part Six covers risk issues associated with resources, from technology and data to physical facilities to finances. Part Seven provides a summary of the material covered.

This book describes risks that student affairs administrators face. Risk comes in many forms. The most obvious of them is risk of litigation in the form of liability for perceived wrongful acts or broken promises. The book explains the sources of liability risk and the management strategies that student affairs administrators can take to reduce risk of this form. Another form of risk is that associated with loss of or damage to property. Part One is dedicated to identifying the nature of risk of this type and the steps that student affairs administrators can take to manage it. A third form of risk is associated with the risk of damaging the reputation of the institution through negative through public relations or damaging publicity. Risk of this form runs throughout this text and can be found in every part. Another form of risk is associated with the health or safety of students and other members of the campus community. Student affairs administrators can also find risk associated with enrollment management. Some activities or events could jeopardize student recruitment or persistence. The alert student affairs staff member will be sensitive to all of these forms of risk and the strategies for managing each.


The authors wish to recognize those in our lives who supported our efforts on this project and also those who gave us insight and perspective to clarify our writing. Anybody who works in higher education and writes for publication finds that the writing complicates the work. This was certainly true for the two of us.

As Roger took on the project, he was in the process of retiring from his senior administrative position at the University of Tulsa. He relocated his home from Tulsa to Indian Rocks Beach in Florida and began a role as an adjunct faculty member at the University of South Florida while continuing to write. Before the project was completed, he began to serve an interim administrative position at California State University, Fullerton, requiring another residential move, completely across the country. His ability to complete the work was only possible because of the incredible support and understanding he received from his wife, Barbara, which is characteristic of the wonderful partner and best friend she’s been through forty-four years of marriage.

Tom’s work on the project began when he was a tenured, full-time member of the faculty at the University of South Florida, teaching in a master’s-level program in college student affairs and a doctoral program in higher education administration. Writing for publication was an appropriate activity for him in that capacity. However, as the project was hitting its stride and the pace of writing was picking up, he was asked to assume a role as interim vice president for student affairs at the university and a few months later was appointed as the permanent vice president. His work life changed dramatically and became much more demanding and inflexible. Like Roger, he received wonderful support and encouragement from his wife, Carol, as he has in every step of their forty-three years of marriage. Carol also played a significant role in editing the manuscript and used her natural skills to improve the quality of our work.

The graduate students Tom served at the University of South Florida were unflaggingly encouraging and understanding about the book project, as were his faculty colleagues and associates. As he moved into his vice president’s role, his administrative colleagues and staff were consistently supportive and encouraging.

We are indebted to Roger’s colleagues at the University of Tulsa, Dale Schoenefeld, vice president of information services and chief information officer, and Robert Shipley, associate vice president for operations and physical plant. They provided excellent advice and insight regarding aspects of the project and were very helpful.

Finally, we express our gratitude to the publisher’s representatives, who gave us wonderful guidance and support and showed tremendous flexibility and understanding as the project took a series of twists and turns. We thank Alison Knowles, Erin Null, and our good friend, John Schuh.

Thomas E. Miller

Vice President for Student Affairs
University of South Florida

Roger W. Sorochty

Senior Associate for Higher
Education, The Center for Conflict Dynamics
Eckerd College


The authors wish to recognize two persons who made specific independent contributions to this book. Dionne Ferguson generated a draft of Chapter Fifteen that was very helpful in detailing the principles associated with contract management. Similarly, Joshua Cutchens produced a draft of Chapter Eighteen that helped us see the scope of what might be most useful to address about student conduct systems.


The two chapters in this part present the parameters for the context in which student affairs administrators approach risk. Chapter One describes how private universities and colleges have different conditions associated with risk management than public ones do. Chapter Two explores the ways in which the issues associated with risk and its management are different for the institutions that employ student affairs administrators and the individual administrators themselves.


This chapter will detail the essential distinctions in approaches to risk and risk management between public or state universities and colleges and those which are private or independent.


A principle difference between public institutions and private ones relates to the areas of law that largely govern their relationships with students (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 23–49). Public institutions are, effectively, arms of state government. They are established by state authority, funded by state resources, and governed by state authorities. Their employees are employees of the state, and their property is public property. As a result, the principles established by the U.S. Constitution apply to public or state universities and colleges. Since private institutions are not agencies of the state, the U.S. Constitution does not directly establish standards for how they interact with students. The fundamental area of law that governs the relationships between private colleges and universities and students is contract law. The forms of contracts between institutions and students are largely related to published materials and other ways in which services or programs are promised to students. Additionally, contract law greatly applies to state institutions, because a variety of contracts exist between state universities and students. The following section will describe implications of these distinctions.


There are several specific ways in which the contract obligations of private institutions present different risk than is the case at public institutions, given their duties associated with the U.S. Constitution (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 23–49).

Standard Setting

In Part Two, we discuss specific ways in which the Constitution establishes what government cannot do in its interactions with citizens. Among its provisions is the establishment of rules and procedures associated with student conduct and student freedom of expression. Public institutions are limited, therefore, in the restrictions they can place on students, particularly regarding speech issues and procedural due process.

Sovereign Immunity, Personal Liability

Government may establish limits for its exposure to liability. This is referred to as sovereign immunity, and it basically protects government and state entities from unlimited risk. The specific standards for sovereign immunity vary from state to state. Individual states have passed legislation to provide definitions of immunity, and judicial decisions have further defined sovereign immunity in individual states. Many states have passed legislation that establishes specific financial limits of exposure by state institutions to claims of liability. Private institutions are not insulated at all by sovereign immunity, unless, in special circumstances, they are acting as agents of the state, as determined by courts that are reviewing their claim of sovereign immunity.

In addition to the protections associated with sovereign immunity, many states have passed laws insulating government employees, including employees of public universities and colleges, from personal liability. This normally applies to employees performing their assigned functions within the scope of their responsibilities as assigned. However, state employees are not protected from intentional wrongful acts. We elaborate on the distinctions between personal liability and institutional liability in the next chapter.

Religious Expression

The First Amendment of the Constitution establishes that government cannot restrict the expression of religion, and neither can it create religion. This applies to public institutions in several ways, some obvious and some not. Chapter Three describes this in some detail, but, fundamentally, public institutions cannot prevent students from expressing religious thought. Neither can public institutions force religion on students. The commonly expressed principle of “separation between church and state” can be confusing and lead administrators to mistakenly violate the former principle associated with preventing student expression.

On the other hand, private institutions have the freedom to require students to participate in religious expression and to limit certain forms of religious expression, but it is safest for them to do so within the context of the institutional mission. Private institutions may require an expression of commitment to faith or student participation in religious ceremonies, for example. In a way, the freedom of expression principle applies to private institutions.

Freedom of Expression

There are several ways in which the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes how public institutions are obligated to permit the free exchange of ideas, even ones that some may find unpleasant or distasteful. Many institutions have attempted to encourage student civility by establishing codes of conduct that regulate speech. There is risk associated with those standards, because the courts would commonly determine them to be content-based restrictions. Student affairs administrators in public institutions should take care to not restrict student speech based on its content. The authors provide a further discussion of this issue in Part Two.

Although the First Amendment establishes a context for the approach regarding free expression at public universities, public statements in codes of conduct and student handbooks provide direct standards regarding the student expression of ideas. Private colleges and universities have more freedom to restrict student expression on their campuses, particularly when the restriction relates to institutional mission or educational purposes.

The freedom-of-expression rights of public institution employees are less restricted when the individuals clearly speak as citizens than when they speak as employees. The rights to free expression by private institution employees can be restricted by contract, loyalty oaths, pledges of religious affiliation, or other conditions associated with the mission or fundamental values of the institution.

Due Process

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (a discussion follows later in this text) obligates state institutions to provide “due process of law” in the student conduct setting, as well as in the review of employee performance. Due process has been defined in case law over the years. Its fundamental requirement is twofold: provide notice of allegations about violations of regulations and provide the accused with a hearing as an opportunity to respond to the allegations (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 456–474). In some jurisdictions courts have expanded the obligations associated with due process, but notice and hearing apply throughout the United States. However, few public institutions limit their procedures to simply notice and hearing. Many public institutions have several levels of appeal or review regarding student conduct, and many permit students accused of misconduct to be accompanied by attorneys. It is also common for those accused of rule violations to be allowed to hear and respond to those who initiate the charges. Although the Fifth Amendment provides the context for due process in public institutions, the direct definition of due process is located in their published materials. Therefore, contract law, more than constitutional law, guides due process at public institutions.

Private institutions of higher education are generally not bound by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Their definitions of due process are found in their codes of conduct and are the promises of the institutions regarding the rights of students and the procedures that are to be followed in student conduct cases (Lake, 2011, pp. 64–76). It is general practice at such institutions to provide a significant level of procedural rights to students in the conduct setting. Colleges and universities do not generally want to be seen as limiting or restricting the freedoms of, or fairness to, students. Codes of conduct, as a result, are generally written so as to give substantial freedoms to students in the conduct process. Again, as established, those published statements of due process are contractual obligations of institutions to the students they serve. When courts review those procedures, the tests they may apply concern the fundamental fairness of the procedures: whether the institution followed its established process; whether the actions taken were not arbitrary or capricious; or whether the sanction imposed was in proportion to the offense. Private institutions will normally survive legal challenges to their conduct procedures as long as they observe the process and procedures that they have published and their decisions are not made arbitrarily or irrationally.

The same standards apply to the procedures for the review of academic misconduct. As long as the private institution follows its procedures as published and as long as those procedures and the case outcomes are not seen as arbitrary or irrational, little risk would arise as a result.

Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides a context for the rights of students attending public universities with regard to freedom from searches (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 365–371). The Fourth Amendment restricts the rights of government officials to search the property of individuals or to search their person without a properly executed warrant. Government officials, in this case, would include the employees of public colleges and universities. Conducting a search in violation of a student’s Fourth Amendment rights could expose employees and public institutions to liability for damages. Any evidence collected during such a search would probably be inadmissible in any subsequent criminal proceeding, but, in some jurisdictions, that may not be a driving factor in a campus judicial proceeding.

Employees of private institutions have more leeway in conducting searches in the absence of law enforcement personnel. However, even in those instances when Fourth Amendment or state law constraints do not apply, a room search that is conducted outside of the parameters of the housing contract between the institution and the student may generate litigation associated with a violation of contract. If a room search is conducted in a fashion that is arbitrary or capricious, a claim of invasion of privacy could result. In theory, private institutions could be more aggressive in searching student rooms, but many of them choose not to be.

Waivers of Fourth Amendment protections offer additional parameters for searches at both public and private institutions. In the case of residence hall contracts, students who executed those contracts are often required to waive their rights to restrict entry into their student rooms for specific purposes of protecting the institutions’ interests, including health and safety and protection of property. Likewise, athletes participating in sports sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletics Association may enter into voluntary contracts to waive their Fourth Amendment rights to permit drug testing for illegal substances. Drug testing is, in effect, a search of the body of a person.

Employees of private institutions who conduct searches are generally not considered state actors, and as long as a search is conducted to protect institutional interests, it will normally survive any legal challenge (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 365–371). However, at these same institutions, those private security personnel who are licensed or otherwise empowered as agents of the state as peace officers, or special law enforcement personnel, must, as a result, conform to Fourth Amendment restrictions. The purpose for searching a student’s room is the test in legal scrutiny. When it is for the purpose of enforcing the law, Fourth Amendment limits apply. When it is for the purpose of protecting institutional interests, constitutional limitations are less applicable.


A number of federal regulations apply equally to public and private institutions, because they are tied to federal aid to higher education. Those regulations include those associated with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989, the Campus Security Act of 1990, and the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act of 2000. Those standards apply to all institutions whose students receive federal aid, which has been interpreted as applicable to higher educational institutions. Chapter Six of this text more fully explores the relevant regulatory issues. Every one of these standards applies to both public and private institutions.


There are differences between the rights of those owning private property and rights associated with public property, and these distinctions may come into play for colleges and universities. A private institution may restrict public access to its property. Some private institutions, for example, use guarded entrances to their campuses and regulate visitor traffic. Public institutions are less likely to do so, although access to property can always be regulated, whether it is public or private. For example, public parks and zoos control access by admission only during certain hours, and public college residence halls are typically accessible only to the students who live there and their guests.

A private institution may initiate arrest procedures for any unwelcomed or unauthorized visitor and charge that person with trespass. A public institution—since its property is public—is less able to do so, unless an individual has engaged in unwanted or illegal behavior and has been warned that a subsequent visit to campus may result in a trespass arrest.


Student affairs staff at public institutions may operate state-owned vehicles to transport students or other persons on or off campus. The institution will have those vehicles insured with liability protection, and there will be procedures governing the use of the vehicles and the procedures to employ in the event of a mishap. Private institutions may be a bit more relaxed about procedures, but will have liability insurance that protects them. Staff members driving vehicles owned by private institutions should be certain that they are informed about their protections in the event of an accident.

At most institutions, both public and private, those using personal vehicles for transporting themselves and others for duties associated with their employment are expected to be self-insured and carry their own vehicle insurance.


Student affairs staff members at both public and private institutions have to be aware of how institutional control can affect exposure to liability. In the end, public institutions and private ones are more similar than they are different, largely governed by contract law and the promises they make to students, employees, and other constituents. Risk can be mitigated by those in the public sector of higher education by taking care to not limit religious expression, being conscientious about content-based limits of expression, carefully following established standards for due process, attending to reasonable expectations of privacy, and staying alert to their responsibilities for the property they own. Risk can be mitigated by those working in the private sector by following established procedures and standards in all cases and making no exceptions, unless the process permits it. The authors have described some of the other ways in which public and private institutions differ and how these differences affect the work of student affairs administrators.


Kaplin, W.A., & Lee, B.A. (2009). A Legal Guide for Student Affairs Professionals (4th ed.) (pp. 23–34, 365–371, 456–474). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lake, P.F. (2011). Foundations of Higher Education Law & Policy (pp. 47–89). Washington, DC: NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.


Pavela, G. (2010, April 23). “Can Students at Private Universities be Dismissed at Will?” In The Pavela Report, 15(13). St John, FL: College Administration Publications.


Many people who bring lawsuits for alleged wrongful acts by college and university officials name only the institutions in their claims. This may have to do with their perceptions of the resources of colleges and universities, compared to those of individual persons. Universities have, in effect, much more capital and financial means than do individual administrators. That perception of “deep pockets” leaves many to bring their claims against only the institutions.

Nonetheless, there are many occasions when individual administrators and staff members are named in lawsuits, either in addition to their employing institutions, or named solely. Many colleges have policies that protect staff members from personal liability for acts performed in the course of their normal duties. Action outside of the normal responsibilities of student affairs administrators, including intentional torts or reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of others, may result in personal liability by those administrators.


Many states have laws that shield them and their employees from litigation under the doctrine of state immunity. Governmental, or sovereign, immunity shields public institutions from many forms of liability claims. Under some circumstances, that immunity may be extended to employees at public institutions. Typically, official immunity protects senior-level administrators at public institutions. In some circumstances it may be possible that, when governmental immunity is successfully claimed by the institution, individual administrators may be more exposed to liability risk. The alert student affairs administrator will be familiar with state law regarding governmental immunity and the protection of government employees.

Officials at private colleges and universities are generally not protected by sovereign immunity or by official immunity. The principle of charitable immunity, protecting charitable organizations from legal liability, might be used to insulate private institutions and their employees, but it is not a typical defense strategy, and it is not often successful.


Torts are wrongful acts that result in harm or loss (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 109–127). They can be acts of omission or failure and they can be acts of commission. We discuss tort issues in more detail in Part Four. Tort liability arises for a student affairs administrator when a person believes that a wrongful act or failure to act by the administrator has caused the person injury or harm. When the act in question is within the scope of responsibility of the administrator, action may be initiated against both the institution and the individual. If the act in question is outside the normal duties of the administrator, the individual is more seriously exposed to the claim. The typical tort claims come from students (or from employees or former employees). Examples of tort claims by students are injuries they experience while participating in organized activities or while using campus facilities. Claims of violations of their civil rights or failure to warn them of hazardous conditions are other examples. In some circumstances, students who believe that their First Amendment rights have been violated may bring suit against individual administrators.

Some high-ranking student affairs administrators, particularly at public institutions, may be able to claim official immunity from liability when acting within the scope of their responsibilities and making a judgment relative to policy. Middle managers and junior-level staff members are less likely to successfully claim immunity in this respect.

Claims against student affairs administrators for negligence will usually be principally brought against their employing institutions, but individuals may be found liable if their acts contributed to the claimant’s injury. An example of such circumstances is the death of a student, the most horrific experience a student affairs staff member can have. When surviving family members come to believe that the faulty judgment of an administrator is to blame, an action against the individual can be pursued. A serious and permanent injury is a similar example with the same possibilities. Administrators are not insulated from liability for intentional torts, so a purposeful act that causes harm or injury can certainly result in personal risk. It is always possible that alleged criminal acts by administrators can expose them to civil liability, too. The development of social media brings the possibility of communication producing exposure to risk, and student affairs administrators should be sensitive to claims of threats, disturbances, or unwelcome activity of any sort through the use of social media.

An additional area of possible individual risk is associated with writing reference letters. A former employee or a student may find that a reference letter creates a barrier to employment, and the letter’s author may be exposed to a tort liability risk. Similarly, a reference letter that fails to disclose a significant limitation of a candidate or a danger posed to those whom the candidate might serve may also expose the author to risk. In any event, writing reference letters is a normal activity for student affairs staff, and supporting those whom we serve in their career exploration is natural. Balancing the effort to assist in advancing an individual’s career with any associated risk should also be natural and normal.

A claim of a tort may arise when an employee feels wronged by the institution or the supervisor. Those who supervise others, either staff or students, need to recognize the risk associated with taking advantage of them or asking them to do things outside of their position responsibilities. We discuss this in more detail in Part Five.

Those who counsel or advise students must be sensitive to the risks associated with providing direction and steering students toward specific actions. Students often confide in student affairs administrators, and, as a result, student affairs personnel have to be alert to information that might suggest a health or safety risk for an individual student or others. An individual administrator may acquire some duty to warn or protect others based on a student confiding in him or her. On the whole, however, confidential information that presents no risk of harm to any person should generally be protected (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 454–456).

Some student affairs administrators assume roles as classroom instructors. As such, they must be sensitive to copyright infringement when they use printed or online materials that are copyrighted. Being sensitive to intellectual property issues may not be natural for student affairs professionals, but when they enter the classroom, they must be alert to those issues.


Contract liability arises when institutions are unable to satisfy their contractual obligations when their employees have committed them to those obligations (Kaplin & Lee, 2009, pp. 244–252). Contracts with students in the form of published materials, residence hall assignments, and promises of services become relevant for student affairs staff. One of the key issues in determining institutional versus individual liability is the question of authority: whether the individual making a commitment on behalf of the institution has the authority to do so. The informed student affairs administrator will take care to know with certainty where the burden for making promises lies.

In institutional residence halls, residential administrators typically require students to sign physical contracts that make their duties and obligations clear and specific. Student affairs staff members who work in residence halls have to be alert to potential violations of local housing code, fire code, and federal housing laws through the Fair Housing Act. Individual exposure to risk may accompany institutional exposure. The same may be true for violations of health codes through dining services, particularly if the dining service is a self-operated one or if insufficient oversight is given.


Some administrators transfer their liability risk by purchasing professional liability insurance. Some student affairs professional associations offer liability insurance to their members. The coverage afforded by liability insurance can be more complex than it seems. The law associated with the duty to defend an insured person varies from state to state, and case law often defines that duty. Some insurers may wish to make a business decision to settle a case rather than defend it. In many instances, it can be much less expensive to resolve a dispute by offering a cash settlement than by proceeding to a trial. However, it may be possible that the insured would prefer to be defended and exonerated from the wrongful behavior claim. The informed student affairs administrator must be aware of state law associated with the duty of the insurer to defend the insured against liability claims. It is also prudent to be familiar with the terms of the policy in order to know the rights of the individual associated with responding to liability claims.

The principle of respondeat superior establishes that those who supervise can be held responsible for the actions of those who report to them. This gives the supervisor the duty to train, monitor, and give oversight so as to manage the risks associated with how staff behave and perform their responsibilities. For reasons established in the previous chapter, those employed in private higher education may be less insulated by their institutions and should become informed about their personal risk of liability.


Although some states require insurers to defend cases against the insured, the obligations on institutions are less restrictive. Some institutions, both public and private, purchase insurance that covers the institution as well as employees acting in good faith and in accordance with their assigned duties. The purchase of insurance is, in effect, risk transfer. Many institutions do not use insurance in the face of smaller claims but, rather, self-insure. An institution that is self-insured will often favor a settlement with a payment of damages, rather than proceeding to trial, even if officials are confident regarding the case. These are financial decisions, because defending a charge in civil court can be very expensive. Settling cases, therefore, is a reality; but it may cause frustration on the part of an involved administrator.


Student affairs staff should be familiar with institutional policies and procedures, as well as the limits of their own duties and responsibilities. Being ill-informed or unaware of institutional policies is not a strong defense in litigation. Good record-keeping and documentation inform best intelligent practice. Individual staff members should consult with their supervisors to determine institutional policies and protections associated with personal liability of employees. Student affairs administrators at public institutions should know about the extent to which their exposure to liability is limited by sovereign immunity or statutory limitations of exposure. Those who work at private institutions should learn about the existence of liability insurance held by the institution, as well as policies for the protection of employees from exposure. Of course, being in contact with legal counsel when questions about personal and institutional liability arise is a good practice.


Kaplin, W.A., & Lee, B.A. (2009). A Legal Guide for Student Affairs Professionals (4th ed.) (pp. 109–127, 244–252, 454–456). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Kaplin, W.A., & Lee, B.A. (2009). A Legal Guide for Student Affairs Professionals (4th ed.) (pp. 149–158). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lake, P.F. (2011). Foundations of Higher Education Law & Policy (pp. 1–46). Washington, DC: NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.