Labor & Employment: University’s Academic Freedom Not Subject to Review in Arbitration

July 27, 2016 in Employment Law

By: Caitlin P. Cascino

In a decision announced July 26, 2016, an intermediate appellate court in New Jersey issued a decision upholding a public university’s ability to make disciplinary decisions based the exercise of the institution’s academic freedom without having that decision reviewed and potentially reversed by an arbitrator.  In In the Matter of the State of New Jersey, Rowan University, the defendant university discontinued the training of a medical resident who allegedly malpositioned ureteral stents intentionally during surgeries.  The medical resident, who was represented by the Committee of Interns and Residents SEIU Healthcare (“CIR”), filed a request for arbitration with the Public Employee Relations Commission (“PERC”), asserting that Rowan improperly refused to process his grievance in connection with his disciplinary action.  PERC held that the employer’s decision was beyond the scope of negotiations and thus not arbitrable, because it implicated academic freedom and medical judgment.  The Appellate Division affirmed PERC’s decision.  The panel held that the PERC arbitrator was not the appropriate finder of fact because the issue involved medical judgment and academic freedom, rendering the decision non-negotiable.  Accordingly, the panel held, “Arbitration of that decision would significantly interfere with the policies of protecting academic freedom and ensuring the proper training of doctors.”

This decision aligns with several other federal and New Jersey state cases upholding public universities’ ability to make disciplinary decisions using their academic freedom.

For more information, please contact Caitlin Cascino.