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Contracts; A Reference Guide to Business Law Contract Writing, The Essential University Course Outline!

By Deb Melby,
Assistant Director of Housing
University of North Dakota

One area where institutional services and liability is outlined is through the use of agreements and/or contracts. Although the context of higher education differs significantly from the K-12 level, decisions involving students, and guest of the university, have significant implications for higher education housing programs.

The concept of this article is to focus on housing program liability and services through the use of written agreements/contracts. It will provide an outline that can be utilized in providing a direction toward creating your own written agreements/contracts. The legal implications between institutional departments and housing operations that run camp, conference, guest and student residence hall housing programs will be the examples used within this framework.

For those persons who are charged with the responsibility of operating housing programs, the agreement/contract between on and off campus organizations sponsoring programs and housing operations is the instrument that defines their legal relationships, i.e. their respective legal and operational responsibilities. An effective contract is one that is easy to read and comprehend, clear about the responsibilities and obligations of each party (including, the customer), and encompasses the pertinent issues.

The easy part of any contract is setting forth the Who, What, When Where and How. Who is the contract with; What is the contract for; When is the contract to be performed; and Where is it to be performed. The hard part of the contract is describing How the contract is to be performed! A general framework outlining the importance of an agreement (Why do one?) is provided below.

  1. The importance of an agreement and/or contract. (Why do one?)
    • Outline liabilities of the sponsoring organization, its customers, and the housing department, i.e., minors attending camps who live in the residence halls.
    • Outline services rendered to the customer, i.e., residence hall students renting on campus rooms and receiving housekeeping services for weekly bathroom cleaning.
    • Outline fees for services rendered to the customer, i.e., daily rates to include cost breakdown for services provided.
    • Outline campus, state, and/or federal codes, i.e., non-discrimination policies.
  2. Public and Private Institutions. (What to include?)

    Unrelated Business Income Tax, (UBIT), i.e., conference housing that is not related to the mission of the institution.

    Accountability/liability.

    1. The law never is, it is always about to be.
    2. Elements of negligence.
    3. Policy considerations in establishing duty.

Services, i.e., laundry rooms, access cards, food services, meeting space, and etc.

Fees, i.e., rates for rental of rooms, facilities, food, staffing and etc.

Supervision being provided by the institution.

  1. Housing staff supervision, organization sponsoring the program, and/or a combination of both groups who voluntary act as a custodial care provider for minors who reside in the halls, i.e., summer camp housing programs.
  2. University residence halls were not designed with children in mind.
  3. Youth behavior behind closed doors.
  1. Approaches to comprehensive agreements and/or contracts. (Who, When and Where).
  • University sponsored, (Agreements between housing department), i.e., individual students and housing, athletics and housing, academics and housing, conference services and housing.
  • Non-University sponsored, (Agreements between housing department), i.e., individual guest and housing and outside groups and housing.
  • Name, address status and other pertinent information about the customer.
  • Description of the type of program to be conducted by the customer.
  • Itemized list of facilities and services that the customer wants the housing department to provide.
  • Itemized list of cost and charges.
  • Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT).
  • Taxes, i.e., sales tax on camp/conference housing rooms.
  • Financial arrangements, i.e., deposits, fees, cancellations.
  • Security for whom, when and where.
  • Parking passes, lots designated and cost.
  • Insurance, i.e., renters insurance, general liability insurance.
  • Designation of contact persons.
  • General rules and regulations

The above check list is a tool that can be used when preparing a written agreement and/or contract between housing operations and its customers. Take the opportunity to visit with your institutions legal counsel and draft better agreements that are clear, easy to read, and comprehensive for both you and the customer. An agreement is one tool that can drastically reduce your chances of legal implications and is no small challenge for housing professionals. After all, "residence halls are more then just a place to live."

About the Author

A full time housing professional for fourteen years, Debi began her career at Eastern Illinois University as an RA and a summer camp counselor. While she was a Residence Hall Director and working on her masters at the University of North Dakota she became involved with the institutions summer camp, conference and guest-housing program. During her fourteen years with residence life and conference housing services she has had the opportunity to work closely with the University of North Dakota's legal counsel. In October she presented a comprehensive session at the ACUHO-I Conference Services Workshop with Vanderbilt University's, Senior General Counsel. Currently she is completing a doctorate in Higher Education Administration and Leadership at the University of North Dakota. Debi is also first Vice-President of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, and is the 2000-2001 Chair of the ACUHO-I Conference Services Committee.