Students Have Legal Recourse Against Unreasonable Covid Restrictions

Max Schanzenbach & Nadav Shoked:

Many colleges and universities are starting the new semester online and imposing draconian restrictions on campus. At Yale, students are under a campuswide quarantine and told not to eat at restaurants, even outdoors. At Princeton, officials have banned undergraduates from traveling outside the area for “personal reasons”—thus conveniently permitting travel for athletic teams. In contrast, the personal lives of faculty, staff and administrators continue uninterrupted. Apparently Covid is a threat only to the young who can easily be bullied into submission.

The move to online learning and other intrusive policies goes beyond what any state or federal health agency is recommending, let alone requiring. The Biden administration opposes school shutdowns. Yet universities still are cautioning that online learning may be extended.

But students may have legal recourse. The university-student legal relationship is grounded in contract. Under contract-law principles, universities probably have the power to impose some health restrictions as circumstances arise. But any imposition must be done in good faith and based on evidence, not on the desire of a panicky provost’s office to “do something.” What harms are caused by students socializing, given the minuscule risk Covid presents to vaccinated 20-somethings? And why not apply these rules to higher-risk faculty and staff? …