The constitutional rights and responsibilities of students and academic personnel in public community colleges as determined by federal and state court decisions

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The present study is an analysis of the constitutional rights and responsibilities of community college students and academic personnel as determined by federal and state court decisions.

The first chapter is a brief overview of the development of the community college. It demonstrates that the dubious position of the community college in higher education contributed to slow acceptance by many of the constitutional rights of students and academic personnel on community college campuses.

Chapter two covers the First Amendment rights of academic personnel: academic freedom, loyalty oaths, political activity, classroom activities. It explains that the United States Supreme Court cases of Keyishian, Pickering and Epperson are clear indications that state-employed teachers have complete freedom under the First Amendment to express their views, as long as this expression does not substantially disrupt the activities of the state or its agencies. Epperson guarantees scholarly choices under academic freedom.

Chapter three discusses tenure and the need for due process in tenure decisions. The landmark United States Supreme Court cases reviewed here are Rowe and Sinderm. Although state-employed teachers have no right to a tenure system, they do have a right to due process in any tenure decision, if either an implicit or explicit tenure system exists. Teachers may also exercise their constitutional rights without fear of employment-related retribution.

Chapter four is an analysis of the constitutional rights of students under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The judiciary overwhelmingly rejects "in loco parentis'' at the college level and views the student-college relationship as one based on constitutional principles. Tinker established that students retain their rights when they cross the school threshold. Papish showed that college student newspapers have complete freedom of expression, although college authorities may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of distribution. Fourth Amendment rights on the college campus are difficult to ascertain since no definitive Supreme Court ruling on search and seizure on a college campus has been handed down. Due process in school disciplinary proceedings is a firmly established prj_nciple in the United States today. The 1975 decisions in Wood and Goss clearly show this. Race has been accepted as a suspect category under the Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection-- sex and appearance have not. Disparate treatment based on sex seems more likely to be declared unconstitutional than such treatment based on appearance.

In chapter five the summary shows that academic personnel and students of community colleges are now accorded the same constitutional rights as their respective colleagues at four-year institutions, although community college administrators were slower to recognize many of those rights than were administrators of four-year institutions. It is recommended that community college administrators review all existing rules and procedures in light of the constitutional rights accorded citizens by the Federal Constitution.