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Higher Education Experience

Spencer Fane Higher Education attorneys have helped public and private colleges, universities, and other educational institutions resolve a wide range of issues.

Following are some of our areas of focus and the services we offer:


  • Assist in updating institutional best practices at all levels, including board policies, internal procedures, and other governance issues and general operational policies and procedures
  • Counsel institutions on achieving board diversity
  • Advise institutions on implementation of more effective shared governance systems
  • Assist client institutions with crisis management arising out of institutional challenges

Regulatory and Accreditation

  • Advise institutions on regional and professional accreditation and compliance
  • Assist clients in the development of educational programs and schools in other countries in cooperation with foreign educational organizations
  • Provide counsel regarding federal and state education laws, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504
  • Advise educational institutions when responding to OCR and other governmental agency investigations

Title IX

  • Act as outside counsel to investigate institutional responses to sexual assault cases
  • Develop Title IX policies and procedures for institutions
  • Assist institutions with Title IX complaint issues
  • Serve as external Title IX investigators and review panel members for colleges and universities
  • Conduct audits to determine institutional compliance with Title IX equal participation and equal benefits requirements
  • Train institutional personnel who have Title IX duties and responsibilities
  • Provide training and education related to sexual misconduct

Internal Investigations and Crisis Management

  • Conduct independent, institution-wide investigations into compliance and financial management
  • Assist institutions with student disciplinary policies, procedures, and proceedings
  • Investigate issues concerning fraternity and sorority misconduct
  • Investigate matters related to employee misconduct
  • Provide counsel to colleges and universities in emergency situations, such as a pandemic or natural disaster
  • Guide institutions through investigations by legal or government entities

Labor and Employment

  • Manage labor and employment issues
  • Advise institutions regarding faculty tenure and promotion matters
  • Assist in development of incentive compensation programs (including enrollment-based incentives compliant with financial aid guidelines)
  • Negotiate and draft faculty contracts, including those for endowed chairs
  • Negotiate and draft presidential and decanal employment and separation contracts
  • Counsel colleges and universities with the preparation and revision of faculty, staff, and student handbooks
  • Assist institutions in responding to labor-organizing campaigns


  • Advise institutions and individuals in matters involving NCAA compliance and athlete eligibility
  • Assist institutions in issues involving coaches’ and other senior athletic leadership’s contracts
  • Provide counsel to individuals and collectives regarding college athlete Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rights
  • Design tax-efficient and creative fundraising incentives
  • Obtain financing for operations and capital improvements

Business and Finance

  • Assist clients with obtaining both tax-exempt and taxable financing for operation and capital improvements
  • Advise institutions on financial restructuring, including refinancing both bonded indebtedness and other obligations
  • Work with colleges and universities to review and document all forms of business transactions, including faculty contracts, vendor contracts, student agreements, and distance education agreements
  • Perform university operations and finance audits
  • Advise institutions on administrative structural options to maximize efficiencies and cost savings
  • Assist administrations with creating new revenue streams that support the institution’s core mission while generating nontraditional income

Charitable Giving and Endowment Management

  • Establish and maintain the tax-exempt status of university foundations, advise on the deductibility of charitable contributions, and create charitable giving plans
  • Advise on board governance issues, develop policies and corporate compliance programs, and provide advice on employment laws as they apply to nonprofit organizations
  • Guide clients through state charitable solicitation laws and the application of federal and state securities and insurance laws to deferred giving vehicles
  • Advise on the establishment and ongoing maintenance of direct and deferred giving programs, charitable remainder unitrusts and annuity trusts, charitable gift annuities, endowments, donor advised funds, and pooled income funds, including compliance with the Federal Philanthropy Protection Act of 1995
  • Monitor clients’ interests in probate estates and trusts and advise on the establishment and maintenance of revocable and irrevocable trusts

Intellectual Property

  • Advise on patents, trademarks, software licensing, joint development, and manufacturing agreements
  • Train clients with large volumes of copyright registrations, enabling cost-effective registration programs and efficient administration of an increasingly complex body of property
  • Maintain trademarks in more than 50 countries, and successfully prosecute electrical, mechanical, medical device, chemical, biological, software-related, and business method patents around the world
  • Assist clients with ownership issues presented by government funded research and the transactional acquisition of patents and trademarks, and provide due diligence on behalf of sellers and buyers

Cybersecurity and Data Privacy

  • Identify the legal requirements applicable to an institution’s use, disclosure, and safeguarding of personal information, including compliance with HIPAA, HITECH, Gramm-Leach Bliley, FDIC Guidance, PCI-DSS, EU GDPR, and state data laws
  • Develop policies and procedures, contractual terms, training programs, and security strategies to manage data consistent with the institution’s risk structure
  • Provide institutions with essential support to survive security breaches when they occur, including evaluation of cyber-insurance policies, development of incident response plans, analysis of breach notification requirements, management of notification obligations, and resolution of resulting regulatory investigations or litigation