August 28, 2009

Ombuds as Antidote to Rising Threat of Litigation in Academia

Amy Gajda, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, warns that a rise in lawsuits poses a serious threat to academic freedom. In her new book, The Trials of Academe: The New Era of Campus Litigation, Gajda says that litigation is now common on campus, and perhaps even more commonly feared. She argues that several factors are driving the increase in lawsuits, including a breakdown in communication by academic leaders, a culture of distrust among colleagues, and anxieties from the shift to nontenured faculty.

Gajda does offer some hope. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, she says:

[C]olleges and universities need to build a stronger sense of community on campus. By this I mean an inclusive, open, diverse community with open channels of communication and effective means of addressing disputes internally. If students, faculty, administrators, and staff are divided by a sense of detachment or mutual suspicion, we can expect to see more litigation. Offering alternatives through campus mediation, ombudspersons, and the like can help to defuse conflicts and keep them out of court.

Her book is scheduled for release in October. (Harvard University Press; Chronicle of Higher Ed.)

1 comment:

  1. The former provost of a small university told me over a decade ago that 25% of his time was spent fending off lawsuits. I've subsequently viewed a non-measurable measure of my ombuds success as the number of lawsuits not filed against my institution.

    Gary Ostrower