We’ve previously noted that colleges, out of fear from liability over student suicides, have been taking extreme steps to preempt the problem by requiring medical leaves of absence. George Washington University discovered that avoiding suits from Scylla doesn’t mean that Charybdis won’t sue: Jordan Nott has sued the school after being barred from campus after seeking hospitalization for suicidal thoughts. Liability reform is clearly needed: either schools aren’t responsible for student suicides, or they aren’t responsible for the steps they take to prevent such suicides. (In the famous Elizabeth Shin/MIT case, the parties recently settled after a court ruling expanding schools’ liability in suicide cases, including the possible liability of administrators without mental health credentials.)
Amanda Schaffer, writing in Slate, argues for a middle ground—a program based on one at the University of Illinois intervening in the lives of suicidal students without kicking them off campus. But Schaffer doesn’t recognize that the middle ground doesn’t resolve liability issues, including hindsight-based lawsuits for the cases where the middle ground isn’t successful; even the Illinois program has reduced suicides by only half. Educational reform can’t happen without legal reform.