This week, the state's highest court ruled that M.I.T. could not be held responsible for the 2009 suicide of a 25-year-old graduate student, Han Duy Nguyen.
The lawsuit, brought by Nguyen's family, argued that M.I.T. professors and staff had a duty to prevent the student's death. The court disagreed, ruling that "there is no duty to prevent another from committing suicide." However, the ruling suggested schools could have some responsibility to prevent suicides in certain situations, for example, if a student had explicitly expressed intent to commit suicide or if the university was aware of a recent suicide attempt.
Paul Reville, former state secretary of education and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the ruling could be a useful framework for schools, likening it to the obligations on teachers to report signs of violence or abuse among their students.
"This sort of declares a red flag in this instance," he told Boston Public Radio Thursday. "If somebody says or gives an indication in some explicit way that they're thinking about [suicide], then you better get off your horse and get doing something about it."
But he expressed concern that the ruling could be interpreted too broadly.
"If somebody were to do postings on Facebook that were indicative of these, is the institution supposed to be aware of these? It's not really part of the institution's business," Reville said.
"I think institutions would be very apprehensive about being held responsible for things that don't really fall within their purview," he added.
To hear more from Paul Reville, click the audio player above.