the Irish for rights

Is a low mark a breach of contract?

NYU Law plaqueFor a low grade to be a breach of contract, there must first be a contract, and courts are slow to find the existence of such a contract, in part because they are reluctant to get involved in grading disputes. Thus, for example, in Keefe v New York Law School (17 November 2009) (hat tips: ContractsProf Blog | Adjunct Law Prof Blog; update: 25 Misc 3d 1228(A) (2009) aff’d 71 AD3d 569 (2010)) York J held that general statements of policy in a school’s bulletins, circulars, catalogues, handbooks and website are not sufficient to create a contract between a student and law school; rather, only specific promises that are material to the student’s relationship with the school can establish the existence of a contract. (Compare and contrast the decision of Murphy J in Tansey v College of Occupational Therapists Ltd [1986] IEHC 2, [1995] 2 ILRM 601 (27 August 1986)). York J provided an important policy justification for this approach:

As a general rule, judicial review of grading disputes would inappropriately involve the courts in the very core of academic and educational decision making. Moreover, to so involve the courts in assessing the propriety of particular grades would promote litigation by countless unsuccessful students and thus undermine the credibility of the academic determinations of educational institutions. We conclude, therefore, that, in the absence of demonstrated bad faith, arbitrariness, capriciousness, irrationality or a constitutional or statutory violation, a student’s challenge to a particular grade or other academic determination relating to a genuine substantive evaluation of the student’s academic capabilities is beyond the scope of judicial review. …

3 Responses to “Is a low mark a breach of contract?”

  1. […] State University, and won! I suppose it’s better than suing the university, alleging that a low mark is a breach of contract. Indeed, such suits give rise to the possibility that grade inflation has been […]

  2. […] time ago, I blogged about the question of whether a low mark is a breach of contract. A little while ago, in a gallimaufry (omnibus) post, I briefly returned to this issue. The context […]

  3. […] But the deference is afforded to academic decisions and internal academic procedures, even where they do not have a Visitor at their apex. On the public law side of the line, in R (Echendu) v School of Law, University of Leeds [2012] EWHC 2080 (Admin) (22 June 2012) HHJ Jeremy Richardson QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court) was emphatic that a “court has no jurisdiction to hear a claim which relates to the exercise of academic judgment … the question of academic judgment is not open to challenge by judicial review”. Hence, the appointment of examiners is wholly a matter of academic judgment in which the court should not interfere (R v Judicial Committee ex parte Vijayatunga [1990] 2 QB 444 (CA); R v Cranfield University ex parte Bashir [1999] ELR 317, [1999] EWCA Civ 995 (16 March 1999). Again, in Clark v University of Lincolnshire and Humberside [2000] EWCA Civ 129 (14 April 2000), Thomson was affirmed; Sedley LJ held that issues of academic or pastoral judgment are issues on which a university is equipped to consider “in breadth and in depth, but on which any judgment of the courts would be jejune and inappropriate” ([12]); and Lord Woolf MR held that a court “will not involve itself with issues that involve making academic judgments … The courts are far from being the ideal forum in which to resolve the great majority of disputes between a student and his or her university” ([29], [39]). Furthermore, a degree classification, and a refusal to reclassify the degree, were upheld, where the impugned “assessments were plainly a matter of academic specialised judgment” deserving of great deference (Re Croskery [2010] NIQB 129 (8 December 2010) [16] (Treacy J) (blogged here; see also here | here | here | here | here). The basic point was well put by York J in the New York case of Keefe v New York Law School 25 Misc 3d 1228(A) (2009) (and he was affirmed on appeal 71 AD3d 569 (2010); blogged here): […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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