The modern university is a multifaceted entity; it is simultaneously a corporation, a property manager, a healthcare provider, and a place of learning (among many other things). A college can be its own little world for the students attending, one that encompasses virtually all aspects of life. However, that little world is still an organization, and for an organization to thrive, it needs regulations. With universities, in particular, the importance of policies and procedures is heightened; they manage massive sums of money, have thousands of clients, and are often responsible for those clients’ livelihoods.
The Demands Of Policies And Procedures For Universities
State & Federal Regulations
Like any entity operating in the United States, universities are subject to the laws of both the federal and state governments. This is one area where the importance of policies and procedures can’t be overlooked; the consequences of breaking these laws could range anywhere from a public relations fiasco to a loss of funding, lawsuits, or even closure. By creating policies encompassing every applicable regulation, schools don’t have to worry about the repercussions of breaking the law.
Certain federal laws apply to institutions of higher education across the board. However, public universities, which receive federal funding, are subject to far more constitutional regulations than their private counterparts. Some of these constitutional laws public schools must abide by include:
- Free Speech Clause of the 1st amendment (right to free speech, assembly, and petition)
- Free Exercise Clause of the 1st amendment (freedom of religious expression)
- The Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment (prohibits the establishment/support of state religion)
- The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment (laws will be equally enforced)
- The Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment (provides safeguards before depriving someone of life, liberty, or property)
Public schools stand to benefit from following the law, as compliant public universities can receive support from legislation such as The Higher Education Act (HEA). This act works to better higher education by supplying additional resources to colleges in the form of financial assistance. The law also works to ensure that every student, regardless of income level or zip code, is able to access higher education by providing scholarships, loans, and student aid.
It may come as a surprise that the state tends to have more authority over education than the federal government. Like public schools, private schools must follow state laws. For instance, if a substance is banned in Texas, that substance can’t be used at any school within the state, regardless of whether it’s private or public. This means that the laws private schools are bound by will vary greatly by location.
Federal regulations are a little different. According to the constitution, Congress doesn’t have direct authority over education; its power primarily comes from funding (and the strings attached to that funding), leaving private schools largely unregulated at the federal level. However, this doesn’t mean private schools get a free pass. Certain federal regulations, such as laws barring discrimination, apply to both public and private universities.
Between those they employ and the students they are preparing for the working world, the university deals a great amount with labor. Accordingly, they’ll need clear policies to regulate that labor.
In this day and age, it can be close to impossible to enter the professional workforce without an internship under your belt – and at many universities, it’s a requirement. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that at least 60% of students since 2013 worked an internship or co-op during their time in college, and that number is only expected to rise.
However, the increasing popularity of internships has opened the doors for debate – should internships be paid? According to The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, the answer is… maybe. The act states that employees of for-profit companies must be paid for their labor, and though they do not count interns as employees, the intern still must be the “primary beneficiary” of the arrangement.
That’s one area where the importance of policies and procedures is apparent. The laws around unpaid internships are somewhat subjective, but by designing internship policies around benefiting students, schools can rest assured that the requirements they set out are in line with the law. Of course, issues still may arise, but having a comprehensive policy around internships gives the school a consistent method for addressing those issues.
Tenure is another form of labor law in which higher education is subject to. In short, tenure is an indefinite teaching position at a university – one that can only be terminated due to extreme circumstances. However, the efficacy of tenure is hotly debated. On the one hand, it makes room for academic freedom, as it allows professors to conduct research or publish articles without fear of repercussions. On the other hand, it promises a job regardless of performance, which could lead to a subpar education for students. That being said, tenure isn’t given out haphazardly; teachers are required to complete a probationary period. As tenure laws vary by state, the exact terms of the probationary period may differ, but it typically lasts around seven years.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of policies and procedures when it comes to tenure; offering a permanent position is a big commitment. Adequate policies will ensure that professors fully comprehend the conditions of the arrangement, including what qualifies as a fireable offense, salary expectations, etc. With this knowledge, neither party has to worry about accidentally breaching the terms of tenure or the fallout of unlawful termination.
Without acknowledging the importance of policies and procedures, the standard of our education could suffer greatly. Teachers and other faculty members are often pushed to grant students good grades even if the student isn’t necessarily deserving of one. Colleges make money from their students, so any time a student fails out, the school is at a financial loss. Plus, students are attracted to schools with high graduation rates, and inflating grades can bump those rates up.
To further the issue, teachers may be inclined to offer easy assignments and award high grades due to the rise of professor rating websites. For those reasons, policies and procedures around education standards are essential – they ensure the quality of education isn’t compromised.
One popular policy around education standards is an end-of-course review. This is typically an anonymous questionnaire distributed to students where they can answer questions about their classes and professors regarding:
- The difficulty of the material
- The difficulty of assessments
- Time required for studying/homework
- The teacher’s respect for students regarding race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.
- How much they knew about the subject at the beginning of the semester vs. the end
Health & Safety
Universities are less obligated to keep students safe and healthy than one may assume; in quite a few instances, they aren’t required to at all. However, that’s not always the case. Some courts have determined that the “special relationship” between universities and students makes colleges more liable than other institutions, especially in cases of foreseeable violence, negligence that results in injury, etc. The issue is that the laws around fault for universities are complicated, making it difficult to determine liability. That’s where comprehensive policies and procedures come in. When liability is written into policy and made readily available to every relevant party, clarity is a given.
Another reason for these policies is that it’s in a school’s best interest to keep students safe and healthy. When illness runs rampant, universities can be forced into shutting down (whether it be by the government or public outrage). And when prospective students hear a college is unsafe, they may not feel it is the best choice for them to attend. Policies can prevent the spread of disease, provide clear safety protocols, and ensure that students and staff are aware of the procedures for handling things like illness, crime, and injury in a responsible manner.
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