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Volume 2, Number 3, May 2002

The Academic Administrator and the Law:
What Every Dean and Department Chair Needs to Know

Toma, Douglas J & Palm, Richard L. (1999). ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 26(5). Washington D.C.: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Review by Samantha Spitzer

Conflict Management in Higher Education Report readers may be interested in this ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report which focuses on law. While the goal of Campus-ADR.org and the Conflict Management in Higher Education Report is to provide information about alternative forms of dispute resolution, we recognize that our readers are also faced with problems that require use of more traditional resolution processes. For this reason, this edition's book review highlights The Academic Administrator and the Law.

Toma and Palm wrote The Academic Administrator and the Law to address legal issues affecting institutions of higher education. More specifically, the report focuses on legal situations that involve deans and department chairs. The purpose in exploring these issues is threefold: to provide general information needed to recognize legal issues and resources available to resolve the issues, to encourage academic administrators to be active in resolving legal issues and to encourage academic administrators to implement preventative law strategies so that legal action can be avoided.

After an executive summary, a forward by Adrianna J. Kezar, acknowledgement page and an introduction, The Academic Administrator and the Law is divided into four chapters. The chapters include ‘The Law, the Courts, and Counsel’, ‘The Employment Relationship with Faculty and Staff’, ‘Students in the Academic Setting’ and ‘Regulation and Oversight in the School and the Department’.

In the above sections, Toma and Palm help answer questions such as

  • What legal issues might arise for Deans and Chairs?
  • Does the legal community defer to academic decision making?
  • What are the roles of institutional counsel and academic Deans and Chairs?
  • What issues to academic administrators face daily?

In answer to the first question, Toma and Palm explain that a variety of legal issues arise in university and college settings. According to the authors, Common issues include contract matters, due process and equal protection, free expression and immigration and copyright regulation. The U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, state and federal legislation, institutional rules and institutional custom govern such issues.

In response to the second and third questions, Toma and Palm indicate that traditional legislative and judicial processes remain pronounced in higher education. Due to the variety of legal issues and methods of resolving them, academic administrators must be familiar with the law, the roles of counsel and the procedural context in which lawyers work. The role of deans and department chairs is to work with attorneys, both those of the institution and those hired in other capacities.

In regards to the final question, the most common issues faced by administrators are those regarding employment. In the words of Toma and Palm

The essence of the relationship between employers and employees is the employment contract...Closely related to employment contracts are decisions about hiring and promotion, each of which raises issues of equal protection and due process...Moreover, these same issues comonly arise in matter os reappointment, tenure, promotion, and the dismissla and retirement of tenured faculty and staff. Affirmative action frequently plays a role in the employment relationship. (iv)

As Adrianna J. Kezar, Series Editor and Director of the ERIC Clearinghouse for Higher Education, explains

Legal issues will only become more prevalent and more complex. Toma and Palm's report will help administrators, especially academic leaders, to become more aware of the ways that a legal perspective can enhance their effectiveness and their accountability as agents of the institution. Astute academic leaders will value the synthesis and analysis of important legal issues contained in The Academic Administrator and the Law.

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