New Law Allows College Degrees To Be Revoked

College Degrees can be revoked in Texas if former students are found guilty of academic misconduct.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

young college grads

The Texas Supreme Court has made a landmark ruling that grants universities in the state power to revoke a college degree if former students are found guilty of academic misconduct. The decision comes after the tertiary educational institute said this special authority would “protect their reputations and the value” of previously awarded degrees.

The ruling follows several consolidated cases involving former students at the University of Texas and Texas State University who were accused of plagiarizing and falsifying data in their dissertations. The student’s legal teams said state law did not give the tertiary institutes the authority to revoke a college degree. But the Supreme Court disagreed.

Last week, the court said universities could revoke a college degree if students receive due process. Additionally, the conduct justifying the rescission must have occurred while a student was enrolled, regardless of whether they have graduated since. According to the Austin American Statesman, the ruling reversed the 3rd District Court of Appeals decision.

The appeals courts found that Texas state law allows universities to award college degrees but doesn’t explicitly state that the institutes can rescind them. The Texas Education Code says its university system is responsible for the “general control and management” of universities. It may also determine “the conditions for awarding certificates and diplomas.”

The code also gives Texas universities the authority to govern and maintain institutions and award degrees. It does not say anything about revoking them. In the new ruling, Justice Debra Lehrmann said universities have the authority to rescind a college degree as part of disciplinary rules and policies regarding academic misconduct.

This includes expelling current students who are found guilty of misconduct. “The only difference between expelling a current student for academic misconduct and revoking the college degree of a former student for the same academic misconduct is timing,” Lehrmann said via the Austin American Statesman.

Although there is no precedent about revoking a college degree in Texas, other courts have ruled that public universities have “degree-revocation power.” This law currently exists in Ohio, Virginia, North Dakota, and New Mexico. The decision has been met with mixed reactions. Some argue that it will help to maintain the integrity of academic degrees and prevent students from cheating.

Others worry that it could be used to unfairly punish students who make honest mistakes or who are falsely accused of misconduct. The ruling is expected to have significant implications for academic institutions across Texas and potentially beyond. It gives colleges and universities the legal backing to take action against students who engage in academic misconduct and other forms of fraud.

In his dissent, Justice Jimmy Blacklock said universities can manage their internal affairs. However, they do not have the authority to interfere in the affairs of graduates. This includes revoking their college degrees after they were awarded. He added that the authority to cancel degrees should only lie with the courts.

A college degree “belongs to me, not the University,” Blacklock wrote. “And like other valuable assets in my possession, it cannot unilaterally be taken by those who decide I should never have had it,” he added via the Austin American Statesman, noting that the Constitution establishes courts to rule on ownership and property disputes – not universities.