Four Morgan State University transfer students have no legal right to a four-year degree even though they claim they were misinformed about graduation requirements, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The court upheld a Baltimore Circuit Court’s decision that Morgan State did not violate federally protected rights, was not negligent and did not breach a contract when it denied degrees in 1994 to Natalie Page, Bobby Walker, Rita Buchanan and Peggy Young Hayward.
The opinion, by a three-judge panel of the intermediate court, was unreported — meaning that it has no value as precedent in other cases.
All four students held Associate of Arts degrees from accredited Maryland community colleges. Three were told just days before expecting to graduate in May 1994 that they had not met university graduation requirements. The fourth was told in June 1993.
The students claimed they followed the advice of faculty advisors and acted in accordance with policy set out in the school’s 1988-’90 catalogue. Three of the four held that the university was negligent in informing them about degree requirements.
An affidavit by Dr. Clara Adams, vice president for academic affairs, admitted that advisors had improperly advised some transfer students, and the court acknowledged that the students had lost income and job opportunities when they didn’t graduate on time.
Nonetheless, it did not find the school liable for the students’ injuries, holding instead that the four had failed to begin their legal action within the time specified by law.
The students argued that other students in similar situations had been allowed to graduate — a fact the university did not dispute.
But the court did not agree that the inconsistency amounted to a violation of the students’ rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In the opinion, by Judges Arrie W. Davis, Glenn T. Harrell and James R. Eyler, the court said the students “have no constitutional right to a degree on these facts.
“[Their] allegations in their amended complaint were not sufficient to assert violation of federally protected rights and to state a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”
The court also rejected the students’ claim that the university had breached a contract made when the students paid their tuition.
“Assuming that an agreement to pay tuition exists, this agreement is irrelevant to any agreement to award a degree,” the opinion said.
Morgan State officials and John H. Morris Jr., the students’ lawyer, declined to comment.
But Mark J. Davis, the Maryland assistant attorney general representing Morgan State, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“[The] plaintiffs claimed in very general terms [and the] court found no evidence,” Davis observed.
Nonetheless, he added, the case “raised some interesting legal issues.” “It’s not very often that you have students suing a university and going this far with it,” Davis said. –30–