Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Andrea Beach

Third Advisor

Dr. William Wiener


educational leadership, higher education, higher education attorneys, higher education risk management, higher education administrators, higher education lawyers


Legal and risk management issues substantially impact the operations of colleges and universities, which face escalating compliance requirements in an increasingly litigious environment. Failing to assess legal liability issues and to constructively address them with risk management processes create vulnerability to claims and litigation, stretching limited institutional resources. Yet research studies are scarce on this topic.

This study used an online survey to obtain input from higher education attorneys across the U.S. regarding their perceptions of frequency and time spent on legal assistance for department chairpersons, chairs’ level of difficulty handling legal and risk management issues, matters having highest adverse impact on institutional legal liability and risk management efforts, and issues which are most essential for chair training. Input was also sought to determine if responses significantly differed based on faculty or chairpersons being unionized.

Responses were obtained from 297 members of the National Association of College and University Attorneys. Key findings included: (a) Issues ranked highest for adverse impact upon legal liability and risk management and most essential for chair training were discrimination (including sexual harassment), state/federal compliance, misuse of institutional/grant resources, and research misconduct; (b) Issues ranked highest for frequency and time spent providing legal assistance for chairs included contracts and grants, state/federal compliance, and FERPA questions; (c) Issues ranked as being most difficult for chairs to handle included state/federal compliance and faculty non-collegiality. Attorneys also offered recommendations to higher education academic administrators and other attorneys in response to open-ended survey questions about how chairs are dealing with legal issues and risk management.

A significant difference regarding state/federal compliance was found in responses of attorneys based on whether faculty members were unionized. Four significant differences were found when institutions’ chairpersons were unionized, which involved frequency and time spent on legal assistance, impact on institutional legal liability or risk management efforts, and essentialness of chair training to reduce institutional legal liability and improve risk management efforts.

Overall, this research provides the first systemic study on higher education attorneys’ experiences on how academic department chairpersons are dealing with issues actually or potentially impacting institutional legal liability and risk management.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access