The degree. When I came across this

The higher education court case that I found to be of interest was Boisson v. Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR).  Currently, I am completing my Practicum with the Study Abroad Office (SAO) and am exploring the idea of working with study abroad and/or international education programs once I complete my graduate degree.  When I came across this case, I was interested in learning how it might apply to both my current and future work with the SAO and what impact it has had on international programs at a higher education level.  With ABOR as the defendant in this case, I also found it relevant to my work at a public university in Arizona.  During the fall semester in 2009, Morgan Boisson, an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, a public institution of postsecondary education, participated in a study abroad program at the Nanjing American University (NAU) in China.  While in China, Morgan joined a student-organized trip to Tibet to see Mount Everest.  At the base camp, Morgan developed altitude sickness.  Without the necessary proper treatment, Morgan was unable to recover and unfortunately passed away.  Applying the Arizona Revised Statutes, Elizabeth Boisson, Morgan’s mother, claimed wrongful death due to negligence against the State of Arizona, ABOR, and NAU.  The superior court granted summary judgment asserting that the Defendants owed no duty of care to Morgan while he was participating in the student-led trip to Tibet.  Elizabeth then appealed and the case went to trial (Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, 2015).         This case falls under the broad scope of tort law, which “requires a college or university and its agents to refrain from injuring any individual to which the college owes a duty” (Kaplin and Lee, 2014, p. 97).  Duty is defined as an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm” and according to Arizona common law, when asserting a negligence claim, the plaintiff has the burden to show five things: duty, breach of that duty, cause-in-fact, legal causation, and resulting damages (Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, 2015, para. 5).  The main question of this case was: did the defendants owe a duty of care to Morgan while he was on the student-led trip?  To answer this, the court needed to first decide if the trip was a school-sponsored activity.    Elizabeth contended that both the student-school relationship and public policy imposed a duty on Defendants in this case.  She also alleged negligence based on ABOR’s internal code of conduct, but failed to develop that claim.  Neither the Plaintiff or the Defendants claimed that any other laws applied, so this case was based strictly on Arizona law.  The court found that although a duty of care is owed to students engaging in school activities, there are no Arizona case laws addressing if an institution of higher education owes a duty to its students for off-campus activities (Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, 2015).  In deciding whether or not a duty of care was required, the court analyzed the following seven factors that have been identified in previous Arizona cases and are used to determine whether or not an off-campus activity is presumed to also be a school activity:1)    The purpose of the activity,2)    Whether the activity was part of the course curriculum,3)    Whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity,4)    Whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement,5)    If the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity6)    Whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so,7)    Whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus(Schmidt, 2015, para. 3)When applying these factors to the Tibet trip, the court found the following: the activity was coordinated by students who wanted to experience Mount Everest on their own and were not doing so for a NAU-related purpose.  They received no academic credit for attending and the trip was not part of any required course curriculum.  The students, along with help from a NAU student liaison, made arrangements with, and paid Tibettours, a third-party company, which then created the itinerary, arranged details of the trip, and served as a guide.  At the request of the students, the professors agreed to let them make up any coursework they would miss while participating in the trip.  No university employees went on the trip, and the Defendants had no authority or responsibility for the trip. The risk of altitude sickness was present despite any interference from the university and the potentially dangerous activity was not initiated by the school.  Ultimately, the court found that the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity and that under Arizona law, the Defendants did not owe a duty of care to Morgan (Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, 2015).  In response to this, Elizabeth argued that the Tibet trip was indeed a school activity based on selected excerpts from ABOR’s internal code of conduct; and because students were issued cell phones as a safeguard against any dangers that might accompany the study-abroad program, a majority of the exchange students (14 out of 17) participated in the activity, students were allowed to make up the classes they missed while on the trip, and the excursion would not have been possible without the assistance of the NAU liaison.  The court dismissed her claims saying that they did not offer any proof that the Tibet trip was a school activity and that they were not relevant in addressing why the Defendants should have owed Morgan a duty of care while he was participating in the trip.  In conclusion, the court upheld the original judgment in favor of the Defendants (Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, 2015).Although the court decided in favor of ABOR, the case still has many implications for institutions of higher education.  The ruling “does not mean that a university or college lacks a duty to protect its students for activities occurring off campus on property owned or controlled by the university or college, or for off-campus functions controlled or regulated by the university or college” (Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, 2015, para. 24), rather it reveals that there is an increasingly gray area in what constitutes a school-sponsored activity.  If just a single detail of the Tibet trip was altered, such as a staff member in attendance, a professor helping plan details, or all seventeen of the students choosing to go, the court may have ruled differently (Frederick, 2017).  Although Morgan’s fate in Tibet is regrettable and devastating, institutions cannot control all aspects of what students are doing and should not be held responsible for decisions made in the student’s own discretion.  While safety of all students always should be a primary concern for institutions during study abroad programs, this case shows that it is exceedingly important for schools to be exceptionally clear on what is university program time and what counts as a student’s discretionary free time in order to reduce liability.  Staff and faculty will also need to make sure that they are being careful to avoid any interference into personal plans that students create for their free time.  Even if asked to attend an event planned and hosted by students in their own free time, it is probably in the best interest of the institution for staff members to decline these invitations.  Ultimately, the most effective strategy is to reduce the likelihood of harm to students in the first place (Frederick, 2017).  Institutions must take great caution with the planning and promotion of international education trips.  Administrators should stay up-to-date on the safety and security of the locations that students are traveling to on study abroad programs.  Orientation sessions should be detailed and properly prepare and warn students of any risks that may arise during their travels.  Staff and faculty who travel with students on these programs should also be appropriately trained.  Knowing the outcome of this case, it has encouraged me to be especially careful when planning student programs.  Whether I eventually end up working in the SAO and planning study abroad trips or coordinating programs in another position as a higher education administrator, I will always make sure that there are clear boundaries between a student’s school time and their free time.