the code enjoy protection by no less than the Fourteenth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, institutions
must adhere to their own policies. It is no wonder, then, that
the typical SSAO must demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of the institution’s student discipline provisions.
➤ Disability rights. What is a disability? Who qualifies as
an individual with a disability? Is a reasonable accommodation necessary? Would a requested accommodation require
a fundamental alteration of a program offering? The SSAO
and the disability resources staff possess the legal and technical expertise necessary to tackle the often-thorny issues under
the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the
➤ Student records. Respecting the confidentiality of
student records is the duty of virtually every school employee.
However, the SSAO and colleagues in the registrar’s office
are the real in-house experts when it comes to navigating the
proverbial jungle that is the Family Educational Rights and
Privacy Act (FERPA).
➤ Financial aid. Helping students meet the cost of an
education demands that student affairs professionals master
the regulatory labyrinth of federal financial aid law. To learn
what the college’s responsibilities will be under recent changes
to the law, students and staff need only consult their SSAO.
It is likely that the SSAO will be well informed about the
Proving that SSAOs actually prevent lawsuits—in the
interest of accountability measures—can be a challenge. Still,
senior administrators and even trustees should not underestimate the role of the SSAO in keeping the school from becoming a defendant.
As universities function with ever-dwindling resources,
student affairs positions are often deemed appropriate targets
for budget cuts. Eliminating such positions, however, may well
have the added effect of weakening defenses against costly litigation. Student affairs professionals use their specialized legal
knowledge countless times a day. Through their diligence,
liability is averted, and resources are saved.
Few specialties are as dynamic as education law. The legal
landscape currently sculpted by courts and legislative bodies
bears little resemblance to what institutions will cope with
10 years from now. SSAOs must be supported—through
monographs, periodicals, seminars, and online tools—in their
efforts to stay current with the law. Professionals who aspire
to SSAO positions merit that same type of support. They will
inevitably move up the ranks as SSAOs assume other leadership positions or transition to careers outside the academy that
make for a better night’s sleep. LE
Peter Kushibab is the former general counsel for the Maricopa County
Community College District in Arizona. Among other things, he now
teaches classes in education law and public administration at Northern
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