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Private Law Continues to Come to Campus: Rights and Responsibilities Revisited

44 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2008  

Peter F. Lake

Stetson University College of Law


This article provides an update to the 1999 book, Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University: Who Assumes the Risk of College Life, co-authored by Stetson law professors Robert D. Bickel and Peter Lake.

The article discusses cases decided since 1999 that deal with central issues of legal duty. The major focus of Rights and Responsibilities was describing the evolution of the law of legal duty in higher education. It has become apparent that the most significant cases in this regard are those involving student alcohol use. Rights and Responsibilities was not a book devoted to college alcohol issues, as such. Yet, it is increasingly apparent that the battleground over competing visions of the modern university is the high-risk alcohol culture and its epidemic primary and secondary effects. Litigation over injuries fueled by alcohol drive college and university safety law today. Many of the recent alcohol cases involve Greek organizations. Courts continue to hold Greek organizations responsible for foreseeable danger to members and others. There are also some significant cases that do not involve alcohol and are relevant to issues of duty and reasonable care in higher education law. Importantly, as No-duty arguments begin to fail in court, it is increasingly necessary for college and university lawyers to turn to other arguments such as causation and plaintiff fault to manage the litigation boom.

Part II discusses some future trends. First, the article briefly discusses the continuing rise of risk management cultures at colleges and universities in recent times. Rights and Responsibilities did not cause the rise in risk management cultures; yet, there is a profound inter-relationship between the book and the continued development and refinement of the concept of college risk management. The modern college or university now attends to foreseeable risks as a matter of good business, not just for litigation avoidance.

Part II also discusses the need for further development of the facilitator model as set out in Rights and Responsibilities. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clearer than ever that Rights and Responsibilities and the facilitator model require further development in at least two areas. One area concerns student process systems. Today, safety is intimately connected to the efficacy of student process systems. These systems are failing and need attention. Additionally, Rights and Responsibilities and its facilitator model were deeply animated by active risks posed to students by the students' own behavior, the behavior of other students, and non-students; and to a lesser extent, passive risks created by conditions on or near campus. Although Rights and Responsibilities did attend to some wellness issues, it did not focus upon the ever-growing range of student wellness issues including student suicide, depression, anxiety, cutting, etc. We are now on the leading edge of a new generational set of student concerns. There will be a rise in concern for - and thus ultimately litigation over - issues related to student wellness. The future of the facilitator model depends on attending to these new risks.

Keywords: risk management, facilitator model, environmental management, alcohol, high-risk drinking, binge drinking, campus safety, suicide, mental health, Greek life, alcohol, higher education, college, university, depression, cutting, tort law, duty, no duty, wellness, fraternity, tort liability, negligence

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K13

Suggested Citation

Lake, Peter F., Private Law Continues to Come to Campus: Rights and Responsibilities Revisited. Journal of College and University Law, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Peter Lake (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st St. South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

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