Gown vs.Town: the Indemnity Issue

Just off the phone with an eminent professor emerita of Slavic Languages (my sister) who said she thought many colleges wouldn’t ever reopen.  Oh maybe those with huge endowments would..but most of ‘em, not unless they get legislation protecting them from  liability.
Leaving aside for the nonce my feelings about the four-year winter sleepover camps which are  undergraduate colleges, it seems to me academic institutions are the last businesses who have to worry about indemnity.
Unlike retail businesses where there’s no telling who will walk in the door, colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to extract waivers from all enrollees.  They already require students to sign myriad pledges relating to diversity and anti-heterosexuality.  All they have to do is add an assumption of the risk of contracting Covid, agreement not to start an action , and a proviso that if they do start suit and lose, they will pay the university’s counsel fees.  Maybe give a slight tuition reduction as consideration for the new promise.
Of course this doesn’t mean they couldn’t be sued, and neither would a statute conferring immunity.  No law can preliminarily enjoin access to the courts.  But it would mean any such suit could Probably be disposed of summarily,  and at no cost to the institution, and great cost to the plaintiffs.

Taking a snapshot  as of June 2020, it seems to me educational institutions are in much better  position than any other businesses.  They were paid Tuition through this point, right?  And I haven’t heard of any of them offering any tuition refunds.  Plus they must’ve saved a lot of money they’d have had  to to expend on heat, Janitorial services, food services, etc.

Plus they’ve got their clientele, the Classes of 2024  who,  just as recently as April 2019 were fixing all their hopes and dreams on lounging and Frisbee-ing  in  the Elysian Fields of those grassy quads and lawns overlooked by the Collegiate-Gothic façades ‘n’ spires.   Those students—and their parents deriving their status in part from the kids’ achievement—desperately want the campuses to re-open.

Whatever your opinion about the four year residential college paradigm, it seems to me there is no economic  reason it can’t  continue, at least to give those presently enrolled the benefit of their ruinously expensive bargain.

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4 thoughts on “Gown vs.Town: the Indemnity Issue”

  1. Higher education is degraded to explicit larceny, having generated $1.5 Trillion in student debt.  It is meaningless both in recruitment and output.   Organic lab is done in computers.  You click on glassware and it self-assembles.  You click on processes and they happen.

    In 1970 we did the benzoin condensation, refluxing an aqueous-alcoholic solution of potassium cyanide and benzaldehyde over a Bunsen burner, 20 of us in an open room.  Fieser, Organic Experiments, 2nd Ed.,  p. 217: “Place 1.5 g of potassium cyanide (poison, do not spill) in a 125 ml round-bottomed flask…”  Are you going to hire somebody who did it on a computer, with (expletive) thiamine to get “the equivalent yield” (about 40% of the cyanide-catalyzed yield)?

    Woe to a world of $250,000 “Liberating gender themes in Batman and Robin,” Green Chemistry, and “feelings.”

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  2. “All they have to do is add an assumption of the risk of contracting Covid, agreement not to start an action , and a proviso that if they do start suit and lose, they will pay the university’s counsel fees.  Maybe give a slight tuition reduction as consideration for the new promise.
    Of course this doesn’t mean they couldn’t be sued, and neither would a statute conferring immunity.  No law can preliminarily enjoin access to the courts.  But it would mean any such suit could Probably be disposed of summarily,  and at no cost to the institution, and great cost to the plaintiffs.”

    Hmm – can you imagine law school students whose parents are also lawyers (a common familial make-up among my kids’ friends) signing that?!

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  3. Pencilvania:
    “All they have to do is add an assumption of the risk of contracting Covid, agreement not to start an action , and a proviso that if they do start suit and lose, they will pay the university’s counsel fees.  Maybe give a slight tuition reduction as consideration for the new promise.
    Of course this doesn’t mean they couldn’t be sued, and neither would a statute conferring immunity.  No law can preliminarily enjoin access to the courts.  But it would mean any such suit could Probably be disposed of summarily,  and at no cost to the institution, and great cost to the plaintiffs.”

    Hmm – can you imagine law school students whose parents are also lawyers (a common familial make-up among my kids’ friends) signing that?!

    I am a lawyer with a 2L at Harvard, and I would sign it.  Of course I can’t waive her cause if action, but I’m pretty sure sh3 would too.  It costs 76K / yr, and part of what we’re paying for is for her to be at  Harvard, mixing with other future world leaders.

    She could get Covid anywhere.  That means both that the risk isn’t great, and that  provIng  you got it from  any one business is really not much if an individual moneymaker for a plaintiff.

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  4. Surely it is precisely those Ivy League colleges with their huge tax-exempt endowments who are most at risk from the student who sues because she (yes, probably a she) caught a cold while swanning around campus during the winter in cut-off jeans and a crop top?  A Billion Dollars for pain & suffering does not sound out of the realm of possibility.  And most juries would be glad to stick it to Big Education, given their ultra-deep pockets.

    Perhaps the bigger risk is — what if China (and maybe India too) decides the “health risk” is too high to continue sending students to universities in Australia, Canada, Europe, the US?  Especially in the hard disciplines, and particularly in the graduate programs, universities are desperately dependent on the Chinese Yuan delivered by those boatloads of full-fare-paying foreign students.  We can be sure that some CCP bigwig is currently sitting in the Forbidden City running the numbers on whether it is in China’s long-term best interests to continue to subsidize Western universities or to take advantage of the Covid Scam to pull the plug.

    The sad part is that, if China decides to flush Western universities, most of us in the West are not going to miss our degraded Academe in the slightest.

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