Suing Students

Margaret Soltan, at University Diaries, has posted an amusing forwarded Gawker account (with a few succinct comments of her own) of a (former?) Dartmouth instructor suing (or at least threatening to sue–it’s all very confusing, as the instructor seems to be confused herself) both the college and former students for discrimination. The Gawker story points out:

The details of the discrimination and harassment? Students didn’t pay attention to her, complained about her to her boss, and accused her of not “accepting opinions contrary to her own” and said she would “lower the grades of students her disagreed with her.” In other words, the exact smarmy complaints all entitled college students level against inexperienced teachers.

University administrators live constantly with the fear of having to spend time and money defending the institution from lawsuits, many of them silly. I’ve leaned from my dad, one of those honest lawyers, that while genuinely ethical attorneys won’t file unmerited lawsuits, there are plenty of opportunists who will. An upset client is easy to take advantage of; get her or him even more worked up, then start filing litigation. The client ends up with rapidly mounting legal bills. And there’s always the hope that the university will just pay some money to make the whole thing go away. As far as I can tell, DePauw, my employer, will take everything to court. It’s an institutional strategy that discourages frivolous litigation.

So I wonder if the issue here is more with the instructor or her lawyer(s), assuming that the case is indeed as sily as it appears from a quick scan of Margaret’s post.

It’s not just miffed instructors who get taken advantage of. I have a friend going through a difficult divorce. Her husband has an income close to $300,000 a year; it seems obvious to me, anyway, that his lawyer will do just about anything to run up his bill. The legal fees grow astronomically, yet have done nothing to better his position in the custody issues.

My ex-wife and I were lucky. Since neither of us had any money, there was non to waste on acting out the psychodrama of our relationship in court. We read up on our rights, sat down, decided what was fair and how we wanted to co-parent the kids, and had a lawyer draw up the papers.

I have to admit that sometimes I wish I could sue some of my cello students. Not for disagreeing with me; that’s part of the fun of teaching. I’d like to sue some of them for not practicing! That’s cello-teacher hell–giving lessons to kids who haven’t practiced.

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