Preventing and dealing with compliance lawsuits

By: K. Celeste Campbell, University Registrar, Oklahoma State University, and Incoming Chair, AACRAO Federal Compliance Committee

The AACRAO Federal Compliance Committee assists members to understand and comply with federal higher education laws and associated reporting requirements. Although FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) may be the first law that comes to mind when thinking about compliance, AACRAO's upcoming annual meeting in Denver offers a variety of sessions that focus on other aspects of compliance as well.

One example is “Lawsuit!!!! Got Your Attention Yet?” presented by Eddie Pawlawski, Executive Vice President at Cumberland University. This is a “must” session for anyone who works with students on a daily basis. It will focus on an array of legal mandates and legal issues facing higher education, such as Title II, III, VI, IX, Section 504, and ADA compliance.

Celeste Campbell, incoming chair of the Federal Compliance Committee, recently interviewed Eddie about the session.

What is the perspective for the session—from an attorney’s view, an administrator’s view, or some other perspective?

The perspective of the session is from an administrator’s/practitioner’s view. Higher education is clearly in the spotlight and is often the “test case” for events that take place on our campuses.  With each new event on or around a college campus comes numerous challenges to federal, state, and local mandates. These challenges shape how faculty, staff, and students collaborate to develop a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment. Complying with these mandates, from training to enforcement, helps the university community operate with a keen sense of awareness.

What are the top two or three issues in higher education that are likely to spawn lawsuits?

It is difficult to narrow to two or three issues because we are such a litigious society. The primary ones that are in daily focus include any form of discrimination, any form of harassment and/or assault, any form of identity theft, and most recently, multiple types of social media offenses.

Will attendees primarily learn ways to avoid lawsuits or ways to address lawsuits that arise?

My intention is to present and to invite reaction and discussion, so I would hope that this will be a combination of both. For example, a well-intended “I’m sorry that this happened; what can we do to help fix it?” can be viewed in a court of law as an admission of guilt or lack of complying with a necessary function. Or, encouraging a student to withdraw who is suicidal because we feel it is in the best interest of the student clearly is a form of discrimination (according to the newest federal mandates). The intention is not to paralyze the group with fear as much as it is to raise awareness of the background of some of the things we read about in the news every day. 

To learn more and register for AACRAO's 100th Annual Meeting in Denver, please click here.