North Texas Daily

Campus hosts annual higher education law conference

Campus hosts annual higher education law conference

March 31
21:23 2015

Adalberto Toledo / Staff Writer

Educators from institutions of higher learning across Texas and the nation participated in UNT’s 19th Annual Texas Higher Education Law Conference at the Gateway Center this week.

Directed by College of Education associate professor Marc Cutright, the conference include speakers on topics from religion and student rights to conducting investigations in the work place.

“I’ve directed and co-directed this conference for 8 years,” Cutright said. “It provides university attorneys, social workers, law enforcement and administrators with talks that have to deal with legal issues in an environment that changes all the time.”

The conference was founded in 1996 by Richard Rafes to let educators across the state discuss educational law and ways to deal with legal issues concerning educational environments. It also awards $1,000 and $1,500 scholarships to students pursuing education at the graduate level.

The conference has changed over time. With the 2008 financial crisis, Cutright said that the conference suffered from low turn-out, hosting a smaller conference in 2009 because of it. In 2013, Curtright held a special conference about student safety in lieu of proposed legislation allowing licensed students to openly carry firearms in institutions of higher learning.

“We’ve done pretty well on attendance. This year we have 280 people at this conference,” Cutright said. “Usually it fluctuates between 250 and 300 people.”

Marianna McGowan, an attorney for Abernathy, Roeder & Boyd out of McKinney, spoke about the importance of holding thorough and well-organized investigations of employees suspected of rule infringement.

“Don’t be judgmental,” McGowan said while talking about interview skills of an employee suspected of some wrongdoing. “Let them talk. It’s very important, I have found, to catch them while they’re emotional.”

McGowan said the most important thing to remember is that no good deed goes unpunished, a phrase she made the audience say out loud during the talk. McGowan involved the audience in every example she gave, providing an environment that felt more like a discussion group than a lecture. She said her job is filled with challenges representing colleges and public schools in legal matters.

“They call [Education Law] the sex, drugs and rock and roll of law,” McGowan said.

Her presentation covered searches of an employee or of an employee’s property, reasonable suspicion, and legal actions that can be implemented if the employee does not cooperate.

“I was asked directly by UNT to speak,” said McGowan “I come specifically because it is UNT. I went to school here as an education major and graduated in three years because I was such a big nerd.”

Co-presenter and executive director of human resources at Hill College Heather Kissack said she’s “constantly challenged every day” by her job. Like Mcgowan, Kissack also started off as a teacher, and moved on to deal with legal issues concerning educational institutions.

“It was an excellent, educational talk,” said Aaron LeMay, associate vice president for financial services and controller at Sam Houston State University. “I liked that early on she talked about the role of an institutions’ general counsel in an investigation.”

The religion and student rights talk focused on the issues of religious groups in universities, providing pertinent information and court case summaries on viewpoint discrimination, the use of public facilities by religious groups and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Every speaker who’s here gets nothing. Not a single dime,” Cutright said. “They do it because they support and believe in what we’re trying to do here.”

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