Admitted student status at public university held to be a property right that cannot be taken without due process of law

A federal court in Virginia has held that a student at a public university has a constitutionally-protected property interest in his place at the university and that he cannot be deprived of that right without due process of law under the fourteenth amendment. Doe v. Alger, 2016 WL 7429458 (W.D. Va. 2016).

The student faced disciplinary hearings arising oiut of allegations that he sexually assaulted another student. He complained that the appeals process was unfair. He was found not responsible after the first hearing but after submission of new evidence he claims he was not able to fully contest, he was held responsible by the appeals committee. The court did not rule on the substantive question of the fairness of the procedures but did hold that students at a public university have a constitutionally protected right to continue as admitted students unless deprived of that right by due process of law. Suspending the student for more than five years constituted a deprivation of a property right. The court applied the ruling in Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593 (1972), which held that a professor's right to continued employment under tenure at a public institution was a property right protected by the due process clause. State law defines property rights and here the court found that the university admitted in its answer to plaintiff's complaint that, once admitted and having paid tuition, the student had a right to continued enrollment. The court rejected the idea that the school retained the power to change the rules at any time. It found this retained power to be irrelevant in determining whether a property right existed. Even though the school had the power to change the rules, once it created a contractual relationship similar to tenure (continued role absent good cause to terminate), the contract created justiifed expectations of continued enrollment that were sufficient to be classified as a property interest protected from deprivation without due process.


See also: Due Process