A University Can Withhold a Degree if the Student is Not Professional April 1, 2015

A recent court decision in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the appeals court for Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, held that a medical school could deny a diploma to a student because he was not “professional”. This decision, captioned Al-Dabagh v. Case Western Reserve University, has serious implications for students because it means that even if a student completes all of the academic requirements for graduation, a university can still refuse to give a student his or her diploma if they do not find that the student is “professional.”

The court justified its decision by explaining that the professionalism requirements were stated in numerous places in the Student Handbook and the student therefore was made aware of the rules. The court also ruled that whether or not a student is “professional” is an academic decision that an institution of higher education has the right to decide. This case is very troubling for students’ rights because it greatly expands the reasons by which a college or university can refuse to grant a student his or her degree. With the amount of time and money that goes into earning a degree, students need to be very aware of their school’s power to keep them from receiving it.

When a university denies a student his or her degree, the student should contact an attorney to help navigate these extremely murky waters. Cases like the Al-Dabagh decision require attorneys to use creative thinking to find a way around the discretion given to universities, such as shifting the focus to issues other than the student’s professionalism including a disability that the university may have failed to accommodate, discrimination based on race or gender, or the university’s failure to follow its own internal procedures. There are many other possible areas to explore when facing discipline, which an education law attorney can evaluate for a student.

If a university is refusing to give you or someone you know the degree that you worked so hard to earn, contact McCarthy Lebit to discuss your rights and your options.

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