‘Seismic Spring’ Shifts US Attitudes to Student Safety on Campus


Benjamin Zipursky was quoted in a Times Higher Education about the responsibility that higher education institutions have to protect students.

It was noon on an autumn day in her third year as a student at the University of California, Los Angeles when Katherine Rosen paused her work in a chemistry lab to reach into a drawer – and sensed someone moving behind her.


It was a classmate with a kitchen knife, who abruptly slashed her neck and stabbed her in the chest.


Ms Rosen almost died from the attack. After recovering, she sued UCLA for failing to warn her or other students about the classmate’s history of hallucinations. The university knew that he thought he had heard voices speaking to him through a wall and that he had imagined people around him calling him an idiot.


Now, in a pivotal pronouncement, California’s highest court has ruled that universities have even more responsibility for the safety of their students than was previously established. This conclusion comes as the highest court in Massachusetts has declared that faculty and staff at universities can be sued for failing to respond after learning that a student is considering suicide. Meanwhile, Michigan State University has agreed to pay $500 million (£376 million) to student athletes who were sexually abused by a staff physician.


Together, these three developments expand the accountability of higher education institutions for their students, at least in environments that the universities control.


“It’s a cycle in a way. The more worries there are, the more security is put on campuses; and the more security they put on campus, the more realistic it is to say that these universities are in the business of making representations to students and their families that they’re going to provide some level of security and vigilance,” said Benjamin Zipursky, professor of law at New York’s Fordham University.

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