University Policy and Procedural Responses to Students at Risk of Suicide

51 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2007

See all articles by Marlynn Wei

Marlynn Wei

Harvard University - Massachusetts General Hospital; Harvard University - McLean Hospital


Colleges and universities have recently faced several lawsuits brought by parents of students who have committed suicide or made suicide attempts. The lawsuits are based on varying claims, including negligence, breach of contact, and discrimination. In crafting policies to respond to these lawsuits, universities should not simply seek limiting institutional liability but should balance the private interest of their students, the relationship of the school to parents of the students, requirements of due process, and their commitment to antidiscrimination principles.

This paper focuses on the current procedural protections in university policies handling students at risk of suicide. I argue that suicidal ideation or attempt should not be treated as if the student has committed a disciplinary infraction, but should be treated as a mental health issue that should therefore not trigger a disciplinary proceeding. However, institutions should not be so quick to dismiss using disciplinary proceedings as a last resort since such a process affords students protections of minimal due process. I propose that the objectives of procedural due process, fairness, preserving the student-institutional relationship, and fact-finding in this situation should include an intermediate mediation step before resorting to disciplinary hearings or involuntary medical withdrawal.

Keywords: suicide, adolescent mental health, mental health, university, college mental health, student mental health, depression

JEL Classification: I1, I2

Suggested Citation

Wei, Marlynn, University Policy and Procedural Responses to Students at Risk of Suicide. Journal of College and University Law, 2008. Available at SSRN:

Marlynn Wei (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Massachusetts General Hospital ( email )

55 Fruit Street
Boston, MA 02114
United States

Harvard University - McLean Hospital ( email )

115 Mill Street
Belmont, MA 02478
United States

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