Courts Find Academics Unexceptional

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

They may be the big men and women on campus but off campus they are just men and women.

“The claim of legal status depends on the prior claim that academics are special, even exceptional, and, because exceptional, exempt from the rules and regulations that apply to others,” Stanley Fish writes in his book, Visions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution, published last year. “This thesis—I call it academic exceptionalism—has been put forward in the courts, but, more often than not, it has been rejected.”

Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University. “The logic of exceptionalism is given a full expression in Urofsky v. Gilmore (Fourth Circuit, 2000), where it is rejected by the court,” Fish wrote. “The case is exemplary for my purposes because it presents in sharp contrast two characterizations of academics who teach at public universities.”

“In one characterization, university teachers are public employees no less bound by generally applicable laws and regulations than a clerk or a custodian or assistant district attorney. In the other, university teachers, because they are engaged in the special knowledge, ‘deserve more freedom from employment control than typical employees.’”

Fish is also a visiting professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.