ACE and five other higher education associations have submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court to request a hearing in OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, a case that centers on the question of whether a public university president can be held legally responsible for actions performed by other administrators without the president’s knowledge.
In October 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling dismissing a complaint brought by a group of Oregon State University (OSU) students after their newspaper distribution bins were removed by director of facilities, who had determined they violated the institution’s bin location policy. The suit against OSU President Edward J. Ray and Vice President Mark McCambridge alleges violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
ACE’s brief supports the petition of certiorari by the president and vice president seeking Supreme Court review of the appeals court ruling as contrary to precedent.
In 2009, the Supreme Court held that in order to state a claim of constitutional violation, a plaintiff must allege the official’s own misconduct played a role in the constitutional violation. In this case, it is uncontested that President Ray had no knowledge of the actions of the facilities director, and therefore under the Supreme Court’s precedent, should not be held responsible for them. However, under the appeals court’s “knowing acquiescence” standard, university administrators can be held liable for constitutional infractions in which they had no direct involvement.
“Given that universities are often large, decentralized and geographically segmented, the circuit court’s opinion sets an insurmountable burden for university administrators and creates a strong incentive for them to shield themselves from knowledge of day-to-day activities on campus,” said ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy.
Along with ACE, associations signing 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 and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
For more background on the case, see Inside Higher Ed.