A study of legal information needs of public higher education administrators in the District of Columbia

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study was concerned with the assessment and analysis of legal information needs of the major administrators in the public higher education system of the District of Columbia. The study further sought to provide a model Request for Proposal (RFP) with a performance specification suitable for inclusion in a public contract which ultimately would result in a study and handbook of the identified legal aspects.

The administrators' needs and desires for legal information were assessed through a questionnaire survey. The questionnaire was divided into three section emphasizing:

a. What information was generally known.

b. What additional information was needed.

c. What information was desired.

Results of the survey indicated that there was a generally low awareness of the more popular aspects of college and university law. However, the administrators appeared to be generally aware of the specific legal aspects pertaining to the instruction or classroom activity. Most of the administrators felt that they were not equipped with sufficient legal information to make decisions on matters with legal implication that could withstand a challenge in court. Constitutional rights, employment contracting, fiscal administration, and policy conflicts were viewed as the most frequent problem areas, while accreditation and tenure problems were viewed as the least frequent. The survey also resulted in a priority listing of legal topics for which additional information was desired.

The survey results were used as a basis for developing a draft outline of legal information topics and sub-topics for inclusion in a study and handbook. A panel of experts in higher education administration and law was effective in producing a final qualified outline. Using the final topic outline, a draft model RFP, containing a performance specification, was designed. A second panel, comprised of experts in contracting, reviewed, modified and validated the model RFP as being usable to actually obtain the required services through a public contract, to conduct a study and produce a handbook with emphasis upon the District of Columbia public higher education system.

It was concluded that:

a. Administrators of the public colleges in the District of Columbia do want and need additional legal information.

b. Administrators of the public colleges in the District of Columbia can specifically identify their needs and desires for legal information.

c. Expressed or identified legal information needs can be converted into a public contract performance specification.

Key recommendations for further study included the development of objective evaluation criteria applicable to performance contracts and the actualization of the study results by the appropriate offices of the District of Columbia Government.