TCTA | Supreme Court weighs in on student's dismissal from law school
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Supreme Court weighs in on student's dismissal from law school

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The Texas Supreme Court considered a lawsuit in which a university dismissed a law student for failure to maintain a 2.0 GPA. The issue in the case was whether the student was entitled to a hearing or opportunity to appeal the dismissal.

The student was dismissed from the law school after he finished his first year with a 1.976 GPA. He argued that one of his grades should have been overturned based on irregularities in the administration of the examination.

Specifically, he alleged that the school had mishandled a cheating investigation regarding reports that a professor held unauthorized review sessions in which some students received advance copies of certain exam questions. The student did not attend the review sessions but contended that cheating by other students negatively affected his own grade.

The university reviewed this claim and denied it, explaining that this issue had already been addressed. Students had been given the opportunity to challenge their grade in response to the cheating allegation, but this student chose not to do so.

Additionally, the university had implemented a remedy on a class-wide basis that gave students the higher of two test scores: the score they originally received or the score that disregarded answers to the allegedly compromised questions. The student's score did not change under this remedy.

Following his expulsion from the university, the student filed multiple petitions with the Academic Standards Committee.

When those were denied, he sued the school, arguing that he had a constitutionally protected interest in being retained in the program due to the impact on his reputation associated with the pursuit of graduate education and the fact that he had paid tuition to the program. He claimed that the school did not offer him sufficient due process, in the form of a hearing, to protect that interest.

Following litigation at the district court and court of appeals, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to consider the case.

The Texas Supreme Court noted that dismissal from a public educational entity (such as a public university) can be protected when the dismissal imposes a stigma. Dismissals from academic institutions generally fall into two categories: disciplinary and academic. Disciplinary suspensions and dismissals are usually considered to be protected because of the damage that can result to a student's reputation due to the allegations of misconduct made against them and the fact that being expelled from a university can prevent the student from pursuing their chosen career path. However, this case was one in which the student was removed solely for academic performance.

The Texas Supreme Court concluded that dismissal from a university program based on academic performance is not protected. In doing so, it noted that dismissal for academic reasons does not seriously damage a student's reputation for honor or integrity. In this case, the student was free to apply for readmission to law school after two years or to seek admission to another law school. The court also noted that, although the student raised the issue of a cheating allegation, he failed to prove that the cheating actually impacted his grade.

Next the court turned to the question of whether or not the student had an interest in continuing his university education because of the money he paid in tuition. The court decided not to answer this question, finding instead that it did not need to do so because the student had in fact been given sufficient opportunity to challenge both his grade in the class where the cheating allegation occurred and his removal from the program.