The University loves to evoke the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) when asked about their internal discipline policies, or to make public any data remotely related to students. However, a 1998 FERPA amendment allows them to release data about disciplinary proceedings where students were found responsible for behavior “that would constitute a crime of violence or nonforcible sex offense.” I think this issue is complex: because the burden of proof is lower for disciplinary proceedings than it is in a court of law, and the process at U-M is generally designed to be “educational,” there might be a good reasons to keep this information private. However, the University can also invoke FERPA simply to keep discipline secret, which may permit abuse – transparency is one way to make sure policies are enforced in a consistant, fair manner. This from a report by the Student Press Law Center:

“… Although federal law permits the disclosure of records of the outcome of disciplinary proceedings when a student is found responsible for behavior that would constitute a violent crimes or a nonforcible sex offense, many college say they would rather maintain the students’ confidentiality. Others said they were either compelled or restricted from releasing the records under state law, but many of those schools were in agreement over their concern for students’ privacy.

The unscientific survey raises the question as to whether the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is effective in its current state of voluntary release of that crime info. FERPA states a school can lose its federal funding if it has a policy or practice of releasing students’ education records without receiving consent. Under a 1998 amendment, schools are permitted to release the outcome of disciplinary proceedings where a student is found responsible for behavior that would constitute a crime of violence or nonforcible sex offense. Schools, however, are not required to release this information under the amendment. Access advocates argue that state open-records laws should require that release in some states.

The University of Michigan said that releasing the documents would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy” and were thus exempt under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. However, courts have consistently said that releasing information involving allegations of criminal misbehavior does not constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

Author: Rob