ACE and six other higher education associations have filed an amicus brief in support of the University of Oregon (UO), urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case arising out of a dispute with a former doctoral student who filed a discrimination lawsuit after her dissertation committee fell apart.
The university is asking the Supreme Court to review an appellate court’s ruling that allowed graduate student Monica Emeldi’s lawsuit to go forward.
Emeldi, a doctoral candidate in UO’s College of Education, took issue with her dissertation advisor’s critique that her thesis was too unfocused and that her methodology was flawed.
After she complained about her advisor’s assessment and lack of support, he resigned as her dissertation committee chair, having concluded that his continued involvement would be a barrier to her progress. When she was unable to find another faculty advisor, she dropped out of the Ph.D. program.
Emeldi subsequently sued UO under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, claiming the university had retaliated against her for vague complaints she allegedly had made to others about a lack of support and female role models for female Ph.D. candidates.
The university argues that the advisor’s decision to step down was based on academic judgment unaffected by discrimination. It is asking the Supreme Court to review the request for summary judgment denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in its October 2012 ruling, or at a minimum, reverse it. That ruling found that the advisor’s resignation and Emeldi’s complaint of discrimination were “not completely unrelated” and said the case could proceed to trial.
“Candid back-and-forth exchanges between professor and student are essential to the dissertation process and innumerable other endeavors in the university setting,” the associations wrote in their brief. “Under the panel’s decision, a student may single-handedly transform a genuine academic disagreement into a triable issue of discrimination under federal law.
Accordingly, the decision will inhibit education by impairing the dialogue between teachers and students.”
The associations also supporting the brief include the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.