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The Responsibility of University Administration Off-Campus: How far Does Liability Extend, and Under What Circumstances Does it Exist?

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  1. The concept of in loco parentis
  2. The history of loco parentis
  3. The case of Hartman v. Bethany College
  4. The case of Donnell v. California Western School of Law
  5. The case of McClure v. Fairfield University
  6. Workshops by the University of Rhode Island and the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention services
  7. Scholars' opinions about universities being held liable for off campus situations
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

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. [...]

[...] The University of Rhode Island and the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention services are currently offering two workshops, on the responsibility of social hosts and how to be a good designated driver. When asked if offering these workshops opened the university up for liability for off campus incidents, Graney replied that liability why the office is here?. The workshops have been put in place to make sure that students understand the dangers surrounding alcohol use, and understand how to keep themselves safe. [...]

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