Ethical Conflicts in Student
Through a Legal Lens
Eric M. Feldman
College of Education (Leadership & Professional Studies)
Graduate Assistant, Global Learning Initiatives
Session Goals Effective Communication
Understand the historical and legal
context of the rules and policies Diversity Appreciation
surrounding student leadership.
Have a heightened awareness of Interpersonal Skills
sensitive issues that must be addressed
in student leadership. Leadership Development
Be able to analyze ethical dilemmas
though thoughtful processes, rather
than snap judgments.
Be able to effectively communicate own
point of view to others.
Duality of Ethical Conflict
Should a student organization host a
contest where participants portray
“ugly women,” including the use of
Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity vs. George
Mason University, 1991
The dean of students agreed and imposed discipline
on the fraternity, preventing it from holding social
and sports activities for a two-year period.
Ruling: The event was protected free speech
The college suffered no “material disruption”
Student Organizations > Freedom of Speech
Should a university remove content
from a bulletin board if a member of
the community complains that it is
Burnham v. Ianni, 1997
The president ordered the removal of two faculty
photos, one containing a rifle and the other a sword,
because of a sexual harassment complaint.
Ruling: The suppression of the photos was
unreasonable. The board was being used for
its intended purpose.
Administrative Authority > Freedom of Speech > Public
Should a university provide a refund of
student fees to a student who does
not want his money going to student
Southworth v. University of Wisconsin, 2000
Students sued because they felt the government was
compelling them to support speech with which they
may not agree, via the funding of political student
Ruling: Upheld university’s right to facilitate
the exchange of ideas via student orgs, but with
Student Organizations > Activity Fees > Freedom of Association
Should a religious student
organization exclude students who
may not profess the group’s beliefs?
Christian Legal Society v. Walker, 2006
University revoked recognition of group for refusing
to allow homosexual students on the executive board.
Ruling: By forcing the group to accept homosexual
members, the university is infringing upon its
right to express its disapproval of homosexuality.
Student Organizations > Freedom of Association
Should a student newspaper publish
offensive remarks about university
Yeagle v. Collegiate Times, 1998
Article listed an administrators title, underneath of a
block quote, as “Director of Butt Licking.”
Ruling: Not libel, because it could not be
reasonably interpreted as factual as opposed to
Student Organizations > Freedom of Press
Should a university dismiss a nursing
student due to obesity?
Russell v. Salve Regina College, 1989
Administrators found the student’s weight to be
unsatisfactory for a nursing student. Student agreed
to a contract to improve, attended Weight Watchers,
but did not lose weight and was asked to leave.
Ruling: Dismissal constituted a violation of
the school’s contract with the student to educate.
Awarding of Degrees> Discrimination
In a group:
1. Review the details of each situation, from the provided
2. Individually, decide what you think is the “right” thing to
do in each situation.
3. Each member will make a case to their groupmates to
accept their point of view.
4. One member of the group will be responsible for
presenting the group’s viewpoint, as well as whether or not
the viewpoint was unanimous.
***15 minutes to work with your group
Revisit the Opinion Inventory you filled out at the beginning of
The same questions are printed on the back. Answer them again,
and see if your thoughts have changed.
Did my opinions change due to the arguments of fellow students?
Did I change my opinions as I was forming my own arguments?
Did taking time to really think through the situation help me to form a
Eric M. Feldman
Office: GL 461 (MMC)
CREATE A GREAT DAY!