Investigation Exposes FERPA Faults


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is meeting more opposition after a six month investigative report was released by The Columbus Dispatch. The investigation targeted 119 colleges throughout the country to gauge their legal interpretations of the federal privacy law.

Dispatch reporters made public-records requests for athletics-related documents in all Football Bowl Subdivision (formally Division I-A) schools. According to “Secrecy 101,” the newspaper’s two-part series, universities in Alabama, Cincinnati, Florida, Oklahoma and Utah all censor information in the name of student privacy. Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon State were all cited in the article.

Sixty-nine schools provided information on its athletes, including airplane flight manifests for football-team travel to road games; lists of people designated to receive athletes’ complimentary admission to football games; football players’ summer-employment documents; and reports of NCAA violations.

The Dispatch‘s analysis of the universities’ responses to public-record requests showed:

  • 5 schools were most open with records (Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers, Utah State)
  • 3 didn’t censor any information (Eastern Michigan, Louisiana-Monroe, Utah State)
  • 11 did not produce a single document in six months (includes Auburn, North Carolina, UCLA)
  • 8 refused to release any documents (includes Arkansas, Penn State, Tennessee)
  • 1 ignored the request completely (Michigan State)
  • 15 took at least three months to comply (includes Cincinnati, Ohio State and Toledo)
  • 23 stripped athletes’ names from every document (includes Georgia, Ohio State, Utah)

In response to the Dispatch’s report, the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) is teaming up with Ohio officials to rein in the alleged FERPA excesses. With the help of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, the SPLC hopes to curb what some view as abuse of FERPA laws.

Concurrently, the Associated Press and other Florida news organizations are suing Florida State University and the NCAA for failing to provide public information about an academic cheating scandal. The lawsuit questions the university’s standards on the state’s constitutional and statutory guarantee of access to public records.

To view The Columbus Dispatch‘s “Privacy 101” series, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

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