Recently, a client faced a difficult situation in which his child had been suspended wrongfully by a private university for alleged disciplinary infractions. It appeared that the university had violated its own standards of due process afforded to students when faced with disciplinary action. While there are constitutionally guaranteed due process rights when confronted with deprivation of a public school education, including by public universities, none exist when dealing with a private university. The question: can anything be done?
The answer is yes. The effective argument is that the university entered into a contract with the student and set the terms of that contract in part by its policies, rules and procedures governing the student disciplinary process. When the university violated its own policies, it breached the contract. An additional, equity-based argument is that the university was unjustly enriched when it suspended the student and retained the tuition. The student had a reasonable expectation that the college would follow its own policies and was damaged when it failed to do so. Moreover, some states have consumer fraud acts which could also apply to this situation. Locating a case on point – against the same university, two years prior – won the day.
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