The respondent, Robert Sindermann, challenged the university’s practice of not giving reasons for the nonrenewal of his contract.
Even though a person has no right to a valuable governmental benefit and even though the government may deny him the benefit for any number of reasons, the government may not deny a benefit to a person on the basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests.
The respondent, Robert Sindermann, was a teacher in the state college system of the State of Texas from 1959 to 1969. After teaching for two years at the University of Texas and for four years at San Antonio Junior College, he came a professor of Government and Social Science at Odessa Junior College. He was employed at the college for four years under a series of one-year contracts. He eventually became the co-chairman of his department. During 1968 to 1969, he left his teaching duties on several occasions and became involved in public disagreements with the policies of the college’s Board of Regents. When his employment contract ended, the Board voted not to offer him a new contract. The Regents issued a press release setting forth allegations of the respondent’s insubordination. But they provided him no official statement of the reasons for the nonrenewal of his contract nor did they allow him any opportunity for a hearing to challenge the basis of the nonrenewal.
Does the respondent’s lack of a contractual right to reemployment defeats his claim that the nonrenewal of his contract violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?
No, the respondent has alleged the existence of rules and understandings, promulgated and fostered by state officials, that may justify his legitimate claim of entitlement to continued employment absent sufficient cause. The respondent must be given an opportunity to prove the legitimacy of his claim of such entitlement in light of the policies and practices of the institution. Proof of such a property interest would not entitle him to reinstatement. But such proof would obligate college officials to grant a hearing at his request, where he could be informed of the grounds for his nonretention and challenge their sufficiency.
Roth provides that property interests subject to procedural due process protection are not limited by a few rigid, technical forms. Rather, property denotes a broad range of interests that are secured by existing rules and understandings. A written contract with an explicit tenure provision clearly is evidence of a formal understanding that supports a teacher’s claim of entitlement to continued employment. Yet absence of such an explicit contractual provision may not always foreclose the possibility that a teacher has a property interest in re-employment. A teacher, like the respondent, who has held his position for a number of years, might be able to show that he has a legitimate claim of entitlement to job tenure. Thus, the respondent must be given opportunity to challenge the basis and hear the reason from the university.