University of North Carolina, Yet Again

March 8, 2005

I find it remarkable, but not surprising given my long experience in the field, that university administrators repeat the same violation time and time again. In the law, we have the doctrine of stare decisis—the binding effect of precedents—that requires that when a case is decided, the next case raising the same essential set of facts must be decided in the same way. This provides not only for the development of law, not only for predictability in the law, but also for the all-important notion of equal protection of the law. Every citizen is entitled to be treated the same as every other citizen, and so similar facts must give rise to a similar result.

Some university administrators refuse to recognize this salutary and civilized rule. If they lose one battle and have to give in and recognize a student’s rights, the next time a similar set of facts arises, they often revert to making the wrong decision, as if the prior battle had not been fought and resolved. They do this in some measure because there is no penalty visited upon them personally for repeated unconstitutional conduct. The school (that is, the taxpayers) pays any judgment. The administrator is not considered a lawbreaker nor a recidivist for committing repeated violations.

My suggestion is that we consider instituting some kind of “three strikes” law, where an administrator of a public college or university who is found to have violated a student’s or teacher’s constitutional rights three times is fired. (Since I take seriously the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, I will not subject an administrator to public whipping.)