A California Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that public universities have no legal obligation to protect their students from the criminal acts of other students.
The crux of the court decision rests on the fact that college students are not forced to attend school, but rather choose to. Therefore, schools have no duty of care, and the court noted that the attack of students by other students is a societal problem not limited to the college setting.
“We believe that the court’s opinion is the correct legal outcome and accurately reflects current California law,” UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said in an email.
The case involved a UCLA student who was attacked by another student during a chemistry laboratory. She sued the UC Regents and several UCLA employees on the grounds that they had treated the offending student for symptoms of schizophrenia and should have been able to foresee violent conduct, but did not do enough, in her opinion, to protect her.
The student who attacked her was previously treated by UCLA mental health resources for symptoms of schizophrenia, but was found not to have “suicidal or homicidal ideation,” according to a court document. According to the same document, the student did think about hurting others, but had never formulated a specific plan. The majority opinion argued that UCLA could not have predicted the attack.
Because its students have a right to regulate their own lives, the decision contended, UCLA does not assume a “special relationship” with them, which exists in K-12 schools. This “special relationship” means that student safety is the duty of the school. Attendance at a college or university is not considered grounds for a “special relationship,” and therefore the university is not responsible, the decision argued.
The dissenting opinion, however, noted that a “special relationship” does exist between students and their college. The university has a duty to protect its students from certain dangers, including attacks by another student, if the incident is foreseeable and within the university’s control.
The appeals court was charged with determining whether there exists sufficient evidence to impose a duty of care upon public universities, and the court found that there was not. This decision applies to all public colleges and universities in California.
Some UC Berkeley students are concerned with the implication that the campus is not responsible for their safety.
“We should feel safe on campus or in class,” said UC Berkeley freshman Cetiana Abebaw. “I want to feel like my university has my back.”
UC Berkeley has several safety and mental health resources, according to the campus website. These include BearWALK, the Tang Center and UCPD. Currently, none of these is dedicated solely to student-on-student violence that may occur on campus.
Contact Anderson Lanham at [email protected].