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EDNA W. JONES v. VASSAR COLLEGE ET AL. (04/15/69)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, DUTCHESS COUNTY
1969.NY.41143 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 299 N.Y.S.2d 283; 59 Misc. 2d 296
April 15, 1969
EDNA W. JONES, IN BEHALF OF AND AS THE NATURAL PARENT OF ROSELYN V. JONES, AND IN BEHALF OF ALL PARENTS OF VASSAR COLLEGE STUDENTS, AND VASSAR STUDENTS, SIMILARLY AFFECTED, PLAINTIFFS,v.VASSAR COLLEGE ET AL., DEFENDANTS
A. D. Robert Jones for plaintiffs.
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy for defendants.
Susan A. Kolbrenner for defendants-intervenors.
W. Vincent Grady, J.
Student protests and demonstrations are prevalent in many colleges and universities today. The instant case presents a related facet of the student-college relationship.
Vassar College, for over 100 years, has been an all-female institution. In January of this year, it received approximately 80 male exchange students from various colleges. On March 5, a code of regulations and enforcement was passed unanimously by the student senate established under the terms of the new constitution of the Vassar College Student Government Association. It had been given the responsibility for enacting and enforcing undergraduate social regulations. These new rules and regulations changed the college's parietal regulations to permit the female students living in each corridor of the residential halls to decide whether or not they wished limitations to be placed upon the hours during which they might receive male guests in their rooms. An election was held on the proposed change, and 1,453 students voted; 1,375 voted for "no restrictions" on visiting hours, and 68 students voted for a "limitation" on visiting hours without moving from their corridor. Ten students voted in favor of living in a corridor with "limited visiting hours" even if they would be required to move to a different corridor. It appears that the wishes of these 10 students have been followed.
The President of Vassar College did not exercise his power of veto over the student-enacted legislation, thereby giving approval to the change in rules and regulations voted upon by the students and enacted by the Vassar College Student Government Association.
Plaintiff, Edna W. Jones, the mother of a Vassar College female student and on behalf of all parents of Vassar College students "similarly affected", commenced this action for a declaratory judgment that Vassar owed a duty to the plaintiffs to continue the former rules and regulations pertaining to parietals, and for an injunction restraining the defendants from changing such rules and regulations. Plaintiffs herein seek an order to show cause, a temporary injunction and stay, although they demand the relief prayed for in the complaint. Thereafter, defendants moved for summary judgment, and this application is now before the court.
Plaintiffs' motion for "an order granting the relief prayed for in the * * * summons and verified complaint" is treated as a cross motion for summary judgment.
There are three basic issues involved in this controversy:
1. Does Vassar College owe a legal obligation to the plaintiffs not to change its rules and regulations pertaining to social conduct on the college campus?
2. Have plaintiffs shown that there are issues of fact with regard to irreparable damage to their legal interests which require a trial on the merits?
3. Are there any issues of fact with respect to whether a declaratory judgment should be granted?
A review of the case law involving the student-college relationship does not reveal any case dealing with the issue as to whether a college has a contractual obligation not to change its rules and regulations governing social conduct.
The case of Matter of Carr v. St. Johns Univ. (17 A.D.2d 632, affd. 12 N.Y.2d 802) holds that there is an implied contract between a student and university and that if the student complies with the terms prescribed by the university, he will obtain the degree sought and the college cannot arbitrarily expel him. When a university expels a student, based on facts within its knowledge that justify the exercise of discretion, a court may not review the exercise of the university's discretion.
There is a contractual relationship between the student and the college which is subject to the rules and regulations of the college (Anthony v. Syracuse Univ., 224 App. Div. 487; Samson v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., 101 Misc. 146, affd. 181 App. Div. 936). These cases hold that the courts will not interfere with the judgment of a college or university except in cases of the clearest abuse of discretion. Plaintiffs herein claim that there was an abuse of discretion on the part of Vassar College in permitting its students to make new rules and regulations with no restrictions on the visiting hours of males. Plaintiffs allege that this was a drastic change which constituted a breach of contract entitling the plaintiffs to the relief sought.
There is no genuine dispute as to any of the material facts surrounding the adoption and application of the new rules and regulations and the defendants concede that such change is drastic. However, does a drastic change in social rules and regulations, by a college, constitute a breach of its implied contract with a student or her parents? It is not controverted that all of the rules and regulations of Vassar, whether disciplinary, social, or academic, are subject to constant review. The Bulletin of Vassar College, Student Handbook Issue 1968-1969 (p. 31), states with respect to such regulations: "These regulations have been kept to the minimum deemed necessary to secure and maintain decent and orderly conditions of living and working for all the members of this residential college. Within this basic framework, the individual student shall be as free as possible to conduct her own academic and non-academic life. This assumes that individual decisions will be accompanied by careful consideration of the standards maintained by the group. The privilege of making independent decisions involves the acceptance of a ...