Universities and colleges in the United States have long been held legally responsible for their students, even though the circumstances surrounding this responsibility have evolved over time. The basis of this responsibility lies in the concept of in loco parentis, when a university takes the place of the parent in supervision of its students. (Hirshberg, 1994) While it might seem reasonable that universities are held liable for students on the immediate campus, several cases have argued before the courts that this liability and responsibility extends to off campus situations, even when the events that transpire are not sponsored by the institution, and may even be against school policy. (Hirshberg, 1994) Daniel Graney, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention Services at the University of Rhode Island, considers McClure vs. Fairfield University to be the landmark case that extended university responsibility off campus. Graney cites this case, as well as an incident that happened at the University of Rhode Island in the early 1990's, as having a great influence on university policy. These two cases affected both the university's policy on alcohol, as well as its desire to become more involved with the behavior of students off campus.
[...] They cannot simply ignore what students are doing in the communities surrounding schools, but as they attempt to regulate this behavior they accept more responsibility for it, and, therefore, more liability as well. It seems that if a university accepts control, regulation, or detailed knowledge of a dangerous situation, it must be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep students safe in that situation or they can be held liable. However, after consulting with Dr. William Dejong about the appearance of a ‘catch 22', the circumstances become clearer. [...]
[...] This duty to protect students and supervise their activities does not exist; however, unless it can be proven that a special relationship exists between the student and the university. Furthermore, in order to hold the university liable, it must be proven that their inaction created a “foreseeable and unreasonable risk” (Hirshberg pg. 193). In order to determine if a risk is unreasonable, it is examined by a court and the harm associated with non-action is compared with the burden of imposing the responsibilities upon the university. [...]
[...] This extension of greater control over students may result in lawsuits by students who claim that their constitutional rights have been violated, or “those who are harmed by the actions of students and who seek to hold the university liable for such acts” (Friedl pg. 719). Scholars' opinions about universities being held liable for off campus situations are varied. McEvoy suggests that in urban areas, campus police work with local police departments to patrol the surrounding environments and create safer areas for students. [...]
[...] Fairfield University asked for a ruling of summary judgment, claiming that “there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it did not owe any duty to the plaintiff” (Gallagher pg. However, McClure was able to show that the University and the town beach area had a close relationship. A large number of students lived in that area, and information about the houses was kept in binders in the university's housing office. [...]
[...] (Smith & Smith, 191) In light of the ruling in New Orleans, Smith and Smith argue that circumstances where an institution relies upon an off-campus location for its own benefit, knows it will be utilized by students, and knows of the dangers there, some duty to warn about and to protect from foreseeable dangers may well exist. (Smith & Smith, 191) According to Daniel Graney, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention Services at the University of Rhode Island, the ‘landmark' case in the area of liability for universities in off-campus situations is McClure v. [...]
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