Tort Liability of a University for Libelous Material in Student Publications

While attention will occasionally be drawn to the impact of the New York Times privilege, this Note largely assumes that a defamed plaintiff is capable of overcoming the constitutional barriers imposed by New York Times and its progeny. In other words, the assumption is made that libelous statements either fall outside the constitutional privilege or that the plaintiff can demonstrate actual malice in the student authors or editors. The Note will analyze the traditional theories which may be invoked to establish the university’s liability for defamatory material in student publications. First, a range of student newspaper-university relationships will be examined with respect to vicarious liability. As will be seen, this issue is complicated by possible first amendment limitations on a public university’s right to control its student publications for libel. Second, an alternative theory of personal, rather than vicarious, liability will be considered. In conclusion, several methods will be suggested through which a university might minimize its potential liability for libel in its student publications.