Roth, a nontenured teacher, at the Wisconsin State University sued, claiming that the failure to rehire him by the university violated his substantive rights and procedural rights.
The requirements of procedural due process apply only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of liberty and property. When protected interests are implicated, the right to some kind of prior hearing is paramount. But the range of interests protected by procedural due process is not infinite.
In 1968 Roth was hired for one year as an assistant professor at Wisconsin State University. At the end of the year, he was told that he would not be rehired for the next academic year. Under Wisconsin statutes, a tenured teacher was entitled to continued employment during efficiency and good behavior but state law left the decision whether to rehire a nontenured teacher like Roth to the “unfettered discretion of university officials.” A nontenured teacher has somewhat similar protection as to tenured teacher but only during his one year term. Technically, there was no real protection for a nontenured teacher who was simply not rehired at the end of the contract. No reason need be given for nonretention and there were no review or appeals.
Can university decide not to rehire a nontenured teacher with no opportunity for review or appeal for the decision?
Yes, Roth has not shown that he was deprived of liberty or property protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment’s procedural protection of property is the security of interests that a person has already acquired in specific benefits. To have property interest in a benefit, a person must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it. The respondent did not have a property interest sufficient to require the University authorities to give him a hearing when they declined to renew his contract of employment.
Every citizen who applies for a government job is entitled to it unless the government can establish some reason for denying the employment. This property right is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and that cannot be denied without due process of law. When an application for public employment is denied, the government must say why for it is only when the reasons underlying government action are known that citizens feel secure and protected against arbitrary government action.
Just as the welfare recipients’ property interest in welfare payments was created and defined by statutory terms, so the respondent’s property interest in employment at Wisconsin State University was created and defined by the terms of his appointment. Those terms secured his interest in employment up to 1969. The university specifically provided that the respondent’s employment was to terminate on June 30, 1969. They did not provide for contract renewal absent sufficient cause. Indeed, they made no provision for renewal whatsoever. Thus, the terms of the respondent’s appointment secured absolutely no interest in re-employment for the next year. They supported absolutely no possible claim of entitlement to re-employment. Nor was there any state statute or University rule that secured his interest in re-employment or that created any legitimate claim in it.