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Law School Case Brief

Regents of Univ. of Mich. v. Ewing - 474 U.S. 214, 106 S. Ct. 507 (1985)

Rule:

When judges are asked to review the substance of a genuinely academic decision they should show great respect for the faculty's professional judgment. Plainly, they may not override it unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment. 

Facts:

Respondent Scott Ewing was enrolled at the University of Michigan in a six-year program of combined undergraduate and medical education, known as the Inteflex program. He was dismissed from the university after failing the "NBME Part I" examination, with the lowest score recorded in the history of the program, which was required in order to qualify for the final two years of the Inteflex Program. Ewing sought readmission to the program and also an opportunity to retake the examination from the university authorities, but was unsuccessful. He then filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleging that he had a right to retake the examination on the ground that he had a property interest in his continued enrollment in the Inteflex program and that his dismissal was arbitrary and capricious in violation of his substantive due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court assumed that Ewing had a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued enrollment in the Inteflex program, but it found no violation of his due process rights. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. 

Issue:

Did the court of appeals misapply the doctrine of substantive due process when it directed the University to allow student Ewing to retake the exam and to reinstate him in the program if he passed?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States granted the University's petition for certiorari to consider whether the Court of Appeals had misapplied the doctrine of substantive due process. The Court reversed. It found that even if Ewing's assumed property interest gave rise to a substantive right under the Due Process Clause to continued enrollment free from arbitrary state action, the facts of record disclosed no such action. The Court noted that substantive constitutional protection against arbitrary dismissal would not have necessarily given the student a right to retake the exam; thus the university's refusal to allow the student to retake the exam was not actionable in itself.The Court explained that when judges are asked to review the substance of a genuinely academic decision, such as this one, they should show great respect for the faculty's professional judgment. Plainly, they may not override it unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment. In this case, under this narrow review, the University did not act arbitrarily in dropping Ewing from the particular academic program because its decision was not such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the University's faculty did not exercise professional judgment. 

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