At what point can a university remove you from campus because you are suicidal? At what point is the university obligated to remove you from campus because you are suicidal? At what point is the university going to get sued regardless of how it handles your attempted suicide?
These are the questions Princeton University is facing. A student who attempted suicide is suing the school for failing to accommodate his mental illness and pressuring him to leave…
In 2012, a freshman took a bunch of pills in a suicide attempt, then sought help and survived. The Wall Street Journal reports on the student’s allegations:
Among the student’s allegations: The school violated his rights to physician-patient confidentiality when staff at the campus counseling center shared details of his medical history with school officials without his consent…
While the student recuperated at the hospital, the lawsuit says, Princeton barred him from his dorm and banned him from campus and classes. He was told he could voluntarily withdraw from the school, or be involuntarily withdrawn for missing classes, the document alleges.
Obviously, universities have an obligation to protect mental health confidentiality. There are a whole bunch of rules regarding that, and what pressing, exigent circumstances allow you to breach that confidence. We don’t know enough yet to know if Princeton followed all of those rules or not.
The more difficult point seems to be whether Princeton was right to bar the kid from his dorm and effectively suspend him from school. You don’t want to set a precedent where issues of mental health are handled with expulsion instead of counseling. The mentally ill aren’t lepers. Universities can’t just throw them away and pretend they don’t exist.
But when students do successfully kill themselves on campus, the university is going to be sued too. And if a student who is suffering from some mental health issues leaves the hospital and goes postal in his dorm room, other students could be in danger, AND the school is going to get sued again.