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.
Scott Ewing, a student who was enrolled at the University of Michigan in a 6-year program of combined undergraduate and medical education, known as the Inteflex program, was dismissed from the university after failing, with the lowest score recorded in the history of the program, the "NBME Part I" examination, which was required in order to qualify for the final 2 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, inter alia, 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.
Is the student correct in 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?
The court granted the university's petition for certiorari to consider whether the court of appeals had misapplied the doctrine of substantive due process. The court found that even if the student'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 held that its review was very narrow, and under this narrow review, the university did not act arbitrary in dropping the student 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.