Managing Departments: Chairpersons and the Law

Department chairs often make or participate in decisions that can lead to litigation. For example, they make key decisions regarding recruitment and hiring; they are key players in the promotion and tenure process; they establish major and degree requirements; and they assign faculty responsibilities, such as student advising and research and publication requirements. This manual informs department chairs about the legal implications of decisions they make.
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This series of essays is designed to educate and inform department chairs about the legal implications of decisions they make. Knowing the law and adopting preventive measures is the best approach to limiting liability and reducing legal exposure.

Department chairs often make or participate in decisions that can lead to litigation. For example, they make key decisions regarding recruitment and hiring; they are key players in the promotion and tenure process; they help establish major and degree requirements; and they assign faculty responsibilities, such as student advising and research and publication requirements.

As a matter of law, the college generally is responsible and liable for the acts of its employees. In relatively few instances are the decision makers personally liable, even if named in a lawsuit.

In all of their roles-recruiter, evaluator, promoter, assessor, terminator, cheerleader and developer-department chairs make critical decisions that can and do generate litigation. Accordingly, it is important that decisions be made by those who understand the law and take appropriate preventive actions.

This manual focuses on the following topics:

  • Academic Freedom: Its Protections and Limitations

  • Interviews and Reference Checks

  • References, Evaluations, and Defamation

  • Student Evaluations of Professors

  • Academic Fraud and Scientific Misconduct

  • Duty to Advise Students

  • Contentious Professors and Collegiality

  • Dismissal for Cause and Lesser Sanctions

  • Faculty Access to Personnel Records

  • Faculty Employment Discrimination: Sex, Race, and Age

  • Sexual Harassment

  • The College Catalog and Student Challenges

  • Student Challenges to Academic Judgments

  • Disclosure and Retention of Student Records

Each of these essays is presented with a common format: Overview, Application, and Preventive Measures. A Selected Bibliography follows each topic.

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Faculty Evaluation And The Law

This manual is designed to help academic decision-makers understand and address some of the common legal issues that plague initial faculty employment decisions and subsequent evaluations. From recruitment to post-tenure review, this manual provides legal analyses and preventive strategies to help reduce conflict and potential exposure.

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