I attend a university in the United States which has recently released its COVID-19 response plan, and part of that plan includes requiring that students get testing before coming to campus, and then get tested regularly while on campus.

It should be noted that all contracts/agreements (school policies, dorm contracts, acceptable use policies, financial aid agreements, etc.) were signed months ago, and include no reference to COVID-19.

Can the private university legally require that students get tested before returning? And if they can (say, due to some new state law or something), can they also require you to submit to regular testing while on campus? My first reaction is that this would be a simple violation of 4th. amendment rights, but because there may be exigent circumstances, are there exceptions, or have I simply misinterpreted everything?

Say, for example, that a student returned without getting tested, and the administration then proceeded to expel the student, would the student have a strong legal case against the university? A case that they would be likely to win?

A few things to note:

I’m not providing an opinion as to whether or not mass testing of students is a good or a bad thing, and I’m not looking for moral arguments in return. I am simply looking for a healthy, factual debate as to whether or not it would be legal.

I suppose that the university could impose micro-restrictions. For example, they may require you to get tested before participating in clubs or sports, as those contracts haven’t been signed yet and they could make it part of the agreement. However, in this case, I’m simply referring to just returning to and living at school.

  • They are most likely in the right to just deny you entry to the premises without the test under the owner's rights and the duty to protect their employees and students - which you are one of!
    – Trish
    Jul 23, 2020 at 20:27
  • 4
    The Fourth Amendment only regulates searches and seizures by the government; it has no bearing at all on what private parties (like your university) may do. I think that argument is a non-starter. Jul 23, 2020 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


As a private university, they have much broader discretion to require things of you. Questions of 4th amendment rights are beside the point, what would matter is whether it is already covered by some part of your contract with the university. As a starting point, they have the property right to control access to their property, and they grant you the right to use their property in certain ways, in exchange for things that you have to do. The contract does not have to say "We can require you to get covid tests".

It is extremely unlikely that any clause says "You can do anything you want except for the following actions". Typically, your contract includes a generic agreement to "follow the rules". There are safety-related standards somewhere in the code of conduct. The requirement to be tested, or to not spread bubonic plague etc. will be subsumed under one of these rules. I understand that you don't want to name the institution.

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