Education Law

College Discipline Extends Off-Campus

  • New school rules allow universities to discipline students for off-campus misconduct
  • Courts generally uphold a college's power to discipline students for off-campus misbehavior that impacts the school's purposes


Life in a college town has a lot to offer, like educational opportunities, sports and cultural events. On the down side, there's no parking, noisy parties and drunken rowdy students.

To be better neighbors, a growing number of universities across the country are monitoring students' off-campus behavior. New rules extend the reach of school conduct codes beyond the campus gates.

Students complain that schools are overreaching their authority. However, courts tend to support the power of colleges to discipline students for off-campus act that impact the school's educational purposes and reputation.

New School Rules

University of Wisconsin students started off the 2009-2010 school year with a revised discipline code. The new rules allow the university to penalize students for misbehavior beyond the school's property lines. The penalties range from written warnings to expulsion.

Likewise, Ohio State University's student code applies off campus in cases related to school activities, school safety or violent crimes.

It doesn't take a violent crime to trigger disciplinary action at the University of Washington. That school also enforces its disciplinary code off campus. But breaking Seattle's noise regulations is enough to earn a visit to the school conduct office.

Testing the Legal Limits

Students and their parents have filed lawsuits questioning the authority of schools to discipline off-campus behavior. Student riots in the 1960's led courts to develop a general policy of upholding school discipline against off-campus student misconduct relating to any lawful mission or purpose of the school.

Courts consistently support student codes of conduct to off-campus behavior. They've found enough of a relationship between off-campus misconduct and a school's mission to enforce school discipline in these cases:

  • When off-campus conduct involves students or teachers. For example, a student could be punished for assaulting, stalking or hazing another student off-campus
  • When the impact of off-campus conduct extends to the campus. Students could be disciplined for coming to school after drinking off campus or for posting abusive Internet messages off-site that target teachers or students
  • When off-campus conduct is prohibited by school activities. A frequent example involves the violation of no-drinking rules for athletes
  • When conduct indicates a student's inability to perform in their major area of study. A pharmacy student could be expelled for dealing drugs
  • When serious or criminal conduct threatens the safety or welfare of teachers or other students. Students could be expelled for crimes like assault or stalking because they pose a continuing threat to the school community

More Universities to Follow?

If more schools follow the trend in the future, students could be punished for off-campus conduct that is dangerous or criminal. Or for conduct that seriously impairs the university's teaching, research or public service missions.

However, currently most universities only police off-campus behavior that could be dangerous to the school community. It's likely that more and more schools will expand their rules to curb off-campus rowdiness. With so many students living off campus, it's important for schools to have far reaching control.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does enforcement of off-campus conduct and discipline codes differ depending on whether the school is public or private? Is it legal for a public school to mandate conduct codes off-campus?
  • If a student lives off campus and his action doesn't directly impact the school's campus, why should the school be able to regulate his behavior? What if a student lives at home? Do schools control behavior if a student runs afoul of the law while at home in another city?
  • Can a school change and enforce a conduct code after a student enrolls and enforce the code? Isn't that a contract issue?
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