Board of Curators v. Horowitz 435 U.S. 78 (1979)

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BOARD OF CURATORS v. HOROWITZ 435 U.S. 78 (1979)

A state university medical student was dismissed during her final year of study for failure to meet academic standards. The Supreme Court unanimously held that she had not been deprived of her procedural due process rights, but divided 5–4 on the reasons for that conclusion. For a majority, Justice william h. rehnquist commented that the student had not asserted any "property" interest, and strongly hinted that she had not been deprived of a "liberty" interest. Nevertheless, assuming the existence of an interest entitled to due process protections, Rehnquist said that a dismissal for academic rather than disciplinary reasons required no hearing or opportunity to respond. Four concurring Justices disagreed with the remarkable conclusion that due process required a fair procedure for the ten-day suspension of an elementary school pupil in goss v. lopez (1975) but not for the academic dismissal of a medical student. Here, however, the four Justices agreed that the student had been given a sufficient hearing.

Horowitz illustrates the artificiality of the Court's recent narrowing of the "liberty" or "property" interests to which the guarantee of procedural due process attaches. A student's interest in avoiding academic termination fits awkwardly into those categories, in their recent restrictive definitions. Yet the student plainly deserves protection against termination procedures that are arbitrary. The specter of judges' having to read examination papers is no more than a specter. The concern of procedural due process is not the fairness of a particular student's termination, but the fairness of the procedural system for depriving a person of an important interest.

Kenneth L. Karst
(1986)