The President of Alabama State University Signs an Awkwardly Worded Contract

Via @BrianStewartOH I learned of this article in the Washington Post about a contract between Alabama State University and its new president. The contract contains the following provision:

For so long as Dr. Boyd is President and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the President’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.

Leaving aside whether it’s intrusive, this provision isn’t a model of clarity. As such, it provides an interesting example of issue-spotting. Let me count the ways:

First, the verb should be cohabit. Cohabitate is, according to Bryan Garner, “a misbegotten back-formation.” See Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 170 (3d ed 2011).

Second, shall not be allowed is an awkward way to impose a prohibition. It sort of sounds like someone else has an obligation to prevent her from cohabiting.

Third, it would seem that if Ms. Boyd were married, she could cohabit with someone other than her husband without breaching the contract. Presumably that isn’t what was intended.

Fourth, what if no romance is involved? No flowers and chocolates, just pure carnality?

Fifth, Ms. Boyd would presumably be free to engage in a nonstop series of spirited one-night stands. Again, that presumably isn’t what was intended.

And sixth, I could imagine the parties getting into a dispute over the point at which a series of short stays by a significant other of Ms. Boyd constitutes cohabiting.

So I’m filing this under “Bad Drafting.”

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

3 thoughts on “The President of Alabama State University Signs an Awkwardly Worded Contract”

  1. A “romantic relation” also strikes me as an ambiguous construction: who is the relation supposed to be romantic with? And do both Ms. Boyd and the cohabitor have to be related to the same person? And what level of consanguinity are we talking about–does a fifth cousin count?

  2. As amusing as this provision may be, it’s a “real life provision,” but it’s probably much more commonly addressed in divorce decrees where one party (still usually the husband) has to pay alimony until the other party remarries or cohabits. Separation agreements and case law (at least in Connecticut) get very specific, and parties get very cute. Obviously, the unhappy payor wants ringing the doorbell to constitute cohabitation, and the payee wants there to be no finding of cohabitation till after the birth of the third child of the union.

  3. Single person reads oddly to me, but perhaps it works better in US English. To be “single” is an everyday expression for being unmarried, but to be a “single person” sounds tautologous. And does it apply to being in a civil partnership (this being different to marriage)?

    The “President and a single person” formula is also odd. Does this mean that after she resigns as President, she cannot be prevented from cohabiting as aforesaid?

    And shouldn’t it be “relationship”?

    Surely no lawyer was involved in drafting this clause?


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