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Academic decisions must be reviewed by the courts under a narrow and restrained standard. In a suit challenging an academic dismissal, a judge must review the evidence or record for some evidence that professional judgment was exercised, e.g., evidence that there was some rational academic basis for the decision. If any such evidence exists, and even though there is some evidence of arbitrary action, the substantive due process inquiry ceases, because the court may not override the faculty's professional judgment unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to conclusively demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment.
Appellee Philip L. Wolf, a medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, was dismissed based on his failure of the senior elective course, and on his entire academic performance, as evaluated by a Committee. Appellee brought the present action against appellants, officials of the medical university, alleging that the appellants violated his equal protection and due process rights. Appellee further alleged that the school catalog he received when he first enrolled in medical school created a contract between appellee and the university, which the latter breached when he was dismissed. The trial court held that the academic dismissal of appellee student by appellants violated the student's constitutional rights of procedural and substantive due process and equal protection, as well as a contract between the student and appellant college created by the college catalog. Appellants challenged the order.
Did the academic dismissal of appellee by appellants violate the appellee’s constitutional rights of procedural and substantive due process and equal protection, as well as a contract between the appellee and appellant college?
On appeal, the court reversed and held that, in light of the limited role allowed to the trial court in reviewing academic decisions of educational institutions, as well as a de novo review of trial record, appellant college and its officials did not exceed their authority in dismissing the student for academic reasons. The court also held that, regarding the student's contract claim, appellants' defense of sovereign immunity had been waived by appellants' failure to plead it as an affirmative defense; however, the court held that no contract arose out of appellant college's catalogue.