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VAN DE ZILVER v. RUTGERS UNIV.

August 1, 1997

JOHN F. VAN DE ZILVER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ORLOFSKY

 ORLOFSKY, District Judge:

 This case requires this Court to decide whether a University's decision not to admit a student to its medical school based upon the faculty's evaluation of the student's academic record and certain "noncognitive factors that [cannot] be easily assessed from transcripts, standardized test scores or . . . letters of recommendation" may be overturned by this Court. After carefully reviewing the undisputed material facts of record in light of well established legal precedent, I conclude that I cannot override the professional judgment of the faculty.

 This matter arises out of Plaintiff's dismissal from the joint BA/MD Program offered by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey ("Rutgers"), and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey ("UMDNJ"), after the completion of four years of an anticipated seven or eight year program, in which Plaintiff received his undergraduate degree, but was not admitted to the Medical School. Plaintiff contends that he is entitled to reinstatement into the Defendants' program and admission to the Medical School for the following reasons: (1) Defendants' failure to promulgate objective standards by which to evaluate Plaintiff's performance deprived Plaintiff of his right to substantive due process; (2) In terminating Plaintiff, the Defendants treated him differently than other similarly situated students, depriving him of his right to equal protection under the law; (3) In terminating Plaintiff from the program, the Defendants discriminated against him because of his race and gender in violation of Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(d) and (e), et seq., and New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-1, et seq. ; (4) Plaintiff's termination from the program was in violation of his right to procedural due process; and (5) Defendants are equitably estopped from terminating Plaintiff from the program.

 Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment, or in the alternative, for an order compelling Defendants to divulge the gender and race of all current and former Joint Program students and a trial date certain for August 1997. Defendants have cross-moved for summary judgment. Jurisdiction is conferred upon this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment will be granted and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

 I. Background

 A. The Joint Program

 Traditionally, undergraduate students gain admission to a medical school by completing a bachelor's degree with a "pre-med" concentration of course work, taking a medical school entrance exam, and applying for admission to medical school. In contrast, the Joint Bachelor/Medical Degree Program (the "Joint Program") offered by Rutgers and the UMDNJ provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at Rutgers to take medical school courses for undergraduate credit, and, at the end of their senior year, be considered for admission to UMDNJ without going through the traditional admission process. (Seiden Aff. PP1-16).

 The Joint Program's policies and procedures are set forth in the Joint Bachelor/Medical Degree Program Handbook ("Handbook"), which is distributed to all Joint Program participants. (Id. P3, Ex.A). The Handbook provides that admission to the Joint Program "is a two stage and highly competitive process." (Id.) In the first stage, undergraduate students at Rutgers apply for admission to the Joint Program, typically in their sophomore year. (Id. P5). An Admissions Committee comprised of faculty from both Rutgers and UMDNJ reviews and acts upon these applications. However, the Joint Program does not itself offer a degree. (Id. P7).

 If a student successfully passes this first stage of the admissions process, the student then takes a combined course of study consisting of Rutgers undergraduate courses and UMDNJ medical school courses during his or her junior and senior years of college. During the student's junior and senior years, the student remains matriculated at Rutgers as an undergraduate and is not enrolled or matriculated at the Medical School. (Id. P7). The academic credits for the medical school courses apply towards the students' undergraduate degrees. (Id. PP5-9, Ex.A).

 The Handbook further provides that during the second stage of the admissions process, the Admissions Committee looks at both the student's academic and nonacademic qualities. With regard to the academic criteria, the Handbook states that it is expected that students will have grades of "A" or "B" in their undergraduate courses and "Honors" or "High Pass" in courses taken at the Medical School. (Id., Ex.A). The Handbook states that "it is essential that successful applicants be more mature than the norm for his or her age group," and that "noncognitive factors that will not be easily assessed from transcripts, standardized test scores or even letters of recommendation," will also be considered. (Id., Ex.A).

 If a student is not recommended for admission to the Medical School, he or she may receive a bachelor's degree from Rutgers and remains free to apply for admission to any medical school through the traditional process. (Id. PP58,61). After declining to recommend a student's admission to the Medical School, the Joint Program's Admission Committee may nevertheless grant a Joint Program participant an extra year to take courses at Rutgers and UMDNJ if it believes that a particular student could, with a second chance, demonstrate his or her worthiness for admission to the Medical School. This extra year of study, however, is not granted as a matter of course to any student whom the Admissions Committee declines to recommend for admission to the Medical School. (Id. P61).

 B. John F. Van de Zilver, Jr.

 Plaintiff, John F. Van de Zilver, Jr., enrolled at Rutgers as a freshman undergraduate in the Fall of 1992. In his sophomore year, Plaintiff applied for admission to the Joint Program and successfully passed the first stage of the admissions process at that time. (Seiden Aff. P17). Plaintiff received a copy of the Handbook setting forth the Joint Program's policies and procedures. (Rooney Cert., Ex.A at 18-20).

 During Plaintiff's first semester in the Joint Program in the fall of 1994, he received a "Low Pass" in Biochemistry and a "Pass" in Human Genetics in his medical school courses, and received a "C" in Genetics and an "A" in Principles of Abnormal Psychiatry in his Rutgers courses. (Plaintiff's Brief in Support of his Motion for Summary Judgment ("P.B."), Ex.A; Rooney Cert., Ex.E). The next semester, Plaintiff received a "Low Pass" in Microbiology and Immunology and a "Pass" in Human Nutrition in his medical school courses, and received a "C" in Molecular Genetics, a "B" in Cell Physiology and a "B" in World Mythology in his Rutgers courses. (P.B., Ex. A; Rooney Cert., Ex.E).

 On two occasions during Plaintiff's first year in the Joint Program, Plaintiff met with his Joint Program faculty advisor, Dr. David Seiden. On both occasions, Dr. Seiden advised Plaintiff that he needed to improve his grades and referred him to the Cognitive Skills Program offered by UMDNJ to assist students with academic problems. (Seiden Aff., PP27-29, Ex.B). Plaintiff acknowledged that his "back is against the wall," and that he had to "get on the ball" and improve his grades. (Rooney Cert., Ex.A at 66,67,70,71).

 Plaintiff met with Dr. Seiden again in August 1995, at the end of Plaintiff's first year in the Joint Program. At that meeting, Plaintiff acknowledged that he had not enrolled in the Cognitive Skills Program, as Dr. Seiden had suggested. Dr. Seiden then advised Plaintiff that simply earning "Passes" in his medical school courses was not sufficient, and that he was in great danger of not being advanced into the Medical School the next year. At this meeting, Dr. Seiden further suggested to Plaintiff that he consider dropping out of the Joint Program to avoid prejudicing his chances for admission to medical school in the traditional way. (Rooney Cert., Ex.A at 73; Seiden Aff. PP31-37, Ex.C).

 Plaintiff's grades improved little during his senior year. In the Fall 1995, semester, Plaintiff received a "Low Pass" in Cell Biology and Histology and a "Pass" in Gross & Developmental Anatomy in his medical school courses and a "B" in his Rutgers course, Theater Appreciation. (P.B., Ex.A). Although Plaintiff may have improved his Cell Biology and Histology grade by taking a re-test, Plaintiff acknowledged that he chose not to do so. (Rooney Cert., Ex.A at 45-46).

 In the Spring 1996, semester, Plaintiff received "Passes" in his Physiology and Neuroscience classes taken at the Medical School, and received a "B" in his Rutgers course, Introduction to Music. (Seiden Aff. P43; Rooney Cert. Ex.E). In order to be eligible to receive a "High Pass" or "Honors" in Neuroscience, students had to write a paper, which Plaintiff chose not to do, thereby making him ineligible for a grade of "High Pass" or "Honors." (P.B., Ex.A; Rooney Cert., Ex.A at 47; Seiden Aff. P46).

 Towards the end of the Spring 1996, semester, the Joint Program's Admissions Committee met to decide whether to recommend the Program's participants for admission to the Medical School. The Admissions Committee, however, chose to defer its decision regarding Plaintiff until after receipt of the Spring 1996, grades. (Seiden Aff., P40).

 After receiving Plaintiff's Spring 1996, grades, the Admissions Committee met again on June 6, 1996, to decide whether to recommend Plaintiff for admission to the Medical School. At that meeting, the Committee unanimously voted not to recommend Plaintiff's admission to the Medical School. (Seiden Aff. P44). The Committee noted several factors that it considered in reaching its decision.

 First, the Committee noted that Plaintiff had fallen far short of the academic criteria stated in the Handbook, as he had failed to achieve an "Honors" or "High Pass" grade in any of his courses taken at the Medical School and had received a large number of "C's" in his Rutgers courses. The Committee also noted that Plaintiff's grades were consistently poor throughout his four semesters in the Joint Program and were not a temporary aberration. (Seiden Aff. PP45,46,47).

 The Committee also found that, in numerous ways, Plaintiff had failed to demonstrate the maturity, dedication and nonacademic qualities expected of Joint Program participants. The Committee noted that Plaintiff failed to participate in the Cognitive Skills Program, notwithstanding Dr. Seiden's advice, given on two occasions, to do so. In addition, the Committee pointed to Plaintiff's failure to take advantage of several opportunities to improve his grades, as well as the fact that Plaintiff showed a tendency to receive "C's" in his science courses at Rutgers that were most relevant to medical school. (Id. PP44-48, 59). By letter dated June 6, 1996, Plaintiff was advised of the Joint Committee's decision not to recommend his admission to the Medical School. (Id., Ex.E).

 Dr. Seiden then advised Plaintiff that there was an appeal process to the Joint Committee. (Id. P49). Plaintiff informed Dr. Seiden that he wished to pursue the appeal and a hearing was scheduled for July 1, 1996, before the Joint Committee to consider Plaintiff's appeal. Prior to the July 1, 1996, hearing, Plaintiff met with Dr. Seiden on several occasions to discuss the reasons behind the Committee's decision. (Id. P50).

 At the July 1, 1996, hearing before the Committee, Plaintiff was permitted the opportunity to articulate the reasons why he felt the Committee should have recommended his admission to the Medical School. (Seiden Aff. P51; Rooney Aff., Ex.A at 95-98). After the Admissions Committee had an opportunity to hear from the Plaintiff and ask him questions concerning his performance, the Committee discussed its recommendation for Plaintiff. (Seiden Aff. P56). No one on the Committee supported Plaintiff's admission to the Medical School. (Id. P57). While the Committee did consider permitting Plaintiff to remain in the Joint Program an additional year, it ultimately decided not to grant Plaintiff the additional year, believing that there was no reason to expect that Plaintiff would benefit from it. (Id. PP58-59, 61). Plaintiff nonetheless received his bachelors degree from Rutgers in May of 1996. (Rooney Cert., Ex.A at 6).

 II. Summary Judgment Standard

 A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [he or she] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). See also Hersh v. Allen Products. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986); Lang v. New York Life Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1983). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact the Court must view all inferences, doubts and issues of credibility in favor of the non-moving party. See Hancock Indus. v. Schaeffer, 811 F.2d 225, 231 (3d Cir. 1987) (citation omitted); Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n.2 (3d Cir. 1983). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

 Moreover, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) provides:

 
When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does ...

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