Higher Education

McGuireWoods’ national team of lawyers and consultants — which includes former university in-house counsel, a former member of the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions and a former U.S. Department of Education deputy general counsel for postsecondary education — understands the legal challenges that test higher education institutions and earns top marks for delivering innovative solutions.

Nonprofit higher education institutions navigate student conduct and disciplinary issues, including under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, athletics, labor and employment law concerns, faculty and board governance, community stakeholders, admissions, data privacy matters, trademark protection, intellectual property rights and insurance recovery matters, among others. Public institutions of higher education also grapple with constitutional concerns including free speech and due process rights as well as state sunshine laws.

For-profit institutions face investigations and penalties from federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education — which recently made significant changes to the borrower defense to repayment rule — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The U.S. Department of Education continues to target corporate owners of for-profit institutions for corporate liability and personal liability, requiring them to sign a program participation agreement to be held joint and severally liable for the school. And accreditors scrutinize corporate governance issues.

McGuireWoods advises higher education institutions to overcome these and other challenges through representing institutions in litigation and government investigations. The team:

  • Won summary judgment on behalf of a leading research university in a trademark infringement and cybersquatting case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The court ruled that the defendant’s domain, which was also used to sell infringing products related to third-party schools and sports teams, should be transferred to the university to end the infringement. Because the court ordered the transfer of the defendant’s domain, the decision is likely to benefit universities and sports teams nationwide.
  • Prevailed on a motion for summary judgment on behalf of a public flagship institution in a high-profile First Amendment lawsuit that drew national media attention.
  • Represented a proprietary institution before the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid’s Borrower Defense Unit, regarding hundreds of borrower defenses to repayment claims under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, resulting in no adverse action against the institution.
  • Successfully represented a proprietary institution and private equity firm before the Federal Student Aid Office in a recertification of its program participation agreement such that the fund was not required to assume joint and several liability for the institution.
  • Obtained full dismissal of all employment discrimination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §1981 against a public research institution and its academic medical center. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the decision.
  • Obtained full voluntary dismissal of tortious interference with contract and fraud claims against a dean of a community college in a case concerning the accreditation of an academic program.
  • Represented a public university before the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), regarding its compensation practices and policies and other employment law issues. The OFCCP’s compliance evaluation ended amicably through a conciliation agreement.

Areas of focus include:

  • Accessibility (Including Digital) and Accommodations
  • Accreditation and State Licensure
  • Administrative Procedure Act
  • Admissions
  • Affirmative Action Programs for Employees
  • Antitrust
  • Athletics
  • Board Governance
  • Civil Rights Compliance — Title VI, Title IX,
  • Crisis Communications
  • Data Privacy and Security
  • Endowment Management
  • Gift Agreements
  • Government Relations and Public Policy
  • Intellectual Property (Including Brand Protection and Licensing, Enforcement of Trademark Rights, Copyright Issues, Patents and Patent Litigation, Trade Secrets and Trade Secret Litigation, Faculty Policies and Contracts, and Name, Image and Likeness Issues)
  • Investigations
  • Labor and Employment (Including Campus Organizing Efforts by Faculty, Staff and Students, and Title VII, ADA, ADEA and Rehabilitation Act)
  • Litigation
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Private Equity
  • Public Finance
  • Real Estate and Land Use
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Research, Commercialization and Technology Transfer
  • Student Demonstrations and Free Speech
  • Student Issues and Conduct (Including Student Organizations)
  • Taxation
  • Title IV Eligibility and Compliance
View Team
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