If you're a university employee, you know: working at a college isn't like working other jobs. You're working in the field of education, and that means you're subject to many ethical and legal standards not found in other industries. Your mission, your product, your clientele—these are all unique to higher education. The culture at a college isn't like any other, and the operating procedures can be confusing and difficult to navigate.
It's important you know what's expected of you as a university employee and that you understand what can happen if you fail to meet those expectations. You were hired to do a specific job, and like any other employee, you have a responsibility to do it. As with any job, though, you can be subject to unfair treatment as a university employee. You can be held to standards that are too high. You can find yourself accused of things you simply didn't do. What do you do when that happens?
As you would if you had trouble at any other job, you hire an attorney to help represent your interests and to make sure you are given all the rights to which you are entitled. As a university employee, though, you need particular legal representation. You don't just need someone who knows the law; you need someone who understands the particular challenges that come with working for an institution of higher learning.
Your Unique Job Requirements
Whatever job you do at your school—whether you're a professor, a provost, a coach, or a custodian—your primary responsibility is to do that job to the best of your ability. If you were hired as a dietitian, you have to make sure students are well-fed. If you were hired to work in human resources, you have to make sure you hire the best professors and administrators.
University jobs, though, come with special requirements, and again, that's true whether your run your school's residence life department or you're working as a lab researcher in the biochemistry department.
- A college is a community. You're not working a simple nine-to-five job for just any company. You contribute to a mission, and you're part of a team that includes everyone on campus. Almost every job on a university campus requires some level of loyalty to the school and dedication to fulfilling that joint mission and insubordination can get you dismissed.
- You work in education. You deal with students—most of whom are under the age of 21. Your job isn't just to help your employer make money; it's to ensure that young people have the opportunity to learn. That means you have certain ethical and legal obligations that employees in other businesses don't. You must adhere to Title IX, for example. Likewise, you're expected to set a good example to students, and most schools strictly limit how you can behave and what you can say and do when you're on campus.
- You deal with confidential information. Almost every position on a college campus involves handling some confidential information. Even if you're simply the receptionist at a dorm, you're privy to the personal lives of the students you work with. All schools have clearly outlined procedures for handling this kind of information and making sure that student privacy is protected, and you can be fired for failing to follow these procedures.
- You're responsible for resources. Colleges and universities continually face a budget crisis, and computers, lab equipment, and even dorm room beds aren't just assets. They're paid for with student tuition. Again, it doesn't really matter what you do for the university: you'll be expected to keep track of resource inventory and safeguard resources from damage or misuse.
Obviously, the worst thing that can happen to any employee is to lose their job. That's just as true for university employees as it is for accountants and architects. Beyond termination, though, what can happen to you as a university employee can have a lot to do with your specific role on campus.
- Faculty who fail to do their jobs correctly might be subject to written warnings, decreases in salary, suspension, and demotion in addition to outright dismissal. The degree of the punishment can also depend on issues such as tenure.
- Support staff, on the other hand, usually face more severe penalties for failing to do their jobs. At UCLA, for instance, “Professional Employees” can be fired after receiving just one warning.
Finally, it's worth keeping in mind that dismissal from a job in education can have far-reaching consequences for your career. If you're a professor who is fired for failing to meet research expectations, you may find it difficult to find another position in academia. Likewise, depending on why you were let go, administrators, coaches, and even support staff can sometimes find it impossible to find another job in education.
Procedures for Defending Yourself
How you go about defending yourself from charges that you haven't done your job can also depend on your particular position.
- Most schools have some grievance procedures in place for faculty and administrators who wish to appeal any corrective actions the school may impose on them.
- However, university staff can usually be fired with little or no recourse.
Fighting termination, in either case, can be difficult. You don't want to take this fight on alone. An attorney is always your best hope of holding on to your job when you've been dismissed. Education, though, is a unique career field, and it demands a unique attorney, one who knows how colleges and universities operate and who understands how to talk to faculty and administrators.
Joseph D. Lento: An Attorney Who Understands University Policy
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-licensed attorney. He's not just any attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento built his career working on college and university conduct issues. He understands how schools operate; he speaks the lingo of education. He's helped hundreds of university employees hold on to their jobs when they faced unfair dismissal, and he can help you to do the same.
Joseph D. Lento values what you do. You've made a commitment to work in education. That's a special calling that often comes with special demands. When those demands are unreasonable, he's dedicated to making sure you're treated fairly and that you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you're a university employee facing unfair termination, contact Joseph D. Lento today, at 888.535.3686 or go online for help.