A University of Nebraska graduate student who made a federal case of a failing grade he received five years ago failed again yesterday before the Supreme Court.
The court dismissed without comment an appeal by Gregory Mercurio Jr., who sought to expunge from his academic record an "F" in biochemistry that he says he didn't deserve.
When Mercurio challenged the grade in an administrative hearing, university officials were unable to find two of his exam papers. Federal law and university regulations grant a student the right to inspect his educational records.
Mercurio hired a fraternity brother, lawyer Paul J. LaPuzza, who successfully argued in state district court that his client's due-process rights had been violated. The university appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which ruled for the school in January.
"This isn't a frivolous case and it isn't a dispute over grades," LaPuzza said in a telephone interview. "The issue is students' rights."
According to court records, Mercurio's exams were the only ones missing, in a class of more than 170 students. Mercurio said he suspected that the instructor, Dr. William R. Ruegamer, destroyed his tests.
"It turned into a power struggle," he said, "especially when my faculty advisers went to him and asked to see" the exam material. "They supported me all the way."
The district court judge wrote that "the record is clear that the documents were in the possession" of the instructor when Mercurio asked for an in-house review of the grade, and that there was "no satisfactory explanation" why the materials could not be produced.
University attorney John Wiltse said the test material "disappeared--we don't know what happened to it." He said that the instructor had the test materials when Mercurio first challenged the grade, but that they were lost sometime before the administrative hearing.
The Nebraska Supreme Court, in ruling for the university, said there was "no evidence of bad faith, malice or fraud" on the part of the instructor or the school.
Ruegamer, contacted last night, called Mercurio's suspicion that he "destroyed" the materials "totally inaccurate, and I think the record bears me out on this."