Vanderbilt Law Review


Brian Jackson

First Page



The changing legal relationship between students and their college or university reflects the evolution of higher education in this country. During the Colonial period and the early years of the Republic, higher education was conducted mainly through small, church-affiliated colleges. In most cases, the founders and faculties of early American schools imitated the collegiate systems of Oxford and Cambridge. Stu- dents and their teachers aspired to withdraw from the world of everyday affairs to live and work in an environment that mirrored the families students left behind. Faculties were concerned not only with intellectual advancement but also with the development of sound moral character, classical virtue, and conventional religious sensibility. Institutions of higher learning were exclusive, intimate, and religious. Whatever the institutional rhetoric, the driving force behind American schools was collegiality.

The dominant legal philosophy courts used to describe this familial relationship was the doctrine of in loco parentis. College authorities stood in the place of parents to the students entrusted to their care. Courts were loathe to interfere with college authorities in either academic or disciplinary matters. Students with nonacademic grievances had little chance of successfully petitioning the courts for redress. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, academia's understanding of itself underwent a dramatic transformation. Under the influence, of Johns Hopkins, Chicago, and Harvard, many prominent colleges aspired toward university status. Germany replaced England as the principal model for American schools. Yet the traditional legal interpretation of the student-university relationship remained relatively constant as courts continued to defer to almost every expression of institutional authority." The widespread student protests of the 1960s forced courts to recognize the fundamental changes in educational philosophy and campus life that made in loco parentis an outdated concept.'

Included in

Education Law Commons