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Univ. of Illinois announces appeal in federal case involving public records, FERPA

(04/13/11 4:55pm)

The University of Illinois announced Tuesday it is appealing a judge’s ruling that federal student privacy law does not prevent the release of records under the state open records act. In court filings, the university also asks Judge Joan Gottschall to stay her ruling while the appeal moves forward in the 7th U.S.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Top dogs, top paychecks -- presidential pay and perks can raise eyebrows, questions

(04/21/11 7:06am)

Year in and year out, some of the best money that a college newsroom can invest is in a subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education, which – along with its comparably excellent (and online-only) competitor Inside Higher Ed – is a factory cranking out steal-able story ideas. The Chronicle is out with its annual survey of the compensation packages of presidents at America’s 185 largest public universities covering 2009-10, and as always, the compilation is fascinating reading (and provides multiple opportunities for follow-up and localization). Note that the term is “compensation” and not “salary” for a reason.

Maryland journalists' fight for campus sexual assault records yields more (and less) than expected

(04/28/11 7:49pm)

Twenty years ago, Congress decided that colleges could no longer hide behind federal privacy law to withhold information when they determined that a sex offense had been committed on campus. Knowing that serious crimes often are processed through secretive disciplinary channels outside of public view, Congress amended the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to say that the outcome of a disciplinary hearing is not confidential if the student is found culpable for conduct amounting to a crime of violence or a sex crime. Colleges have been slow to get this message, however, and Exhibit A is the University of Maryland -- which for the better part of the last three years fought student journalists' attempts to report on the way rape allegations are investigated and punished. It took a ruling from the state attorney general -- and even then, compliance took many months and a battle over jacked-up fees -- before the university agreed to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act and release the documents sought by student reporters from Capital News Service. Now it's apparent why Maryland was so resistant to disclosure: Because the answer to the question "who has been punished for committing a sexual assault on campus" is "almost no one." If the university's public-records production is complete, then only four students -- one of them a former Maryland Terrapins quarterback who transferred away in 2006 -- were punished by the school's Office of Student Conduct for sex offenses over the last 10 years, according to CNS. That is a remarkably low number for a school that enrolls more than 37,000 students annually. Maryland's Clery Act report, a federally mandated snapshot of campus crimes, shows 105 forcible sexual assaults reported from 2006 through 2008 alone.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Policing how schools fund extracurricular activities

(05/10/11 2:17pm)

Those nickel-and-dime fees for participating in the school band, lacrosse team or cheerleading squad are a frequent irritant to cash-strapped parents -- and it turns out, they may sometimes be illegal. The San Diego Union-Tribune has discovered that privately organized booster clubs in one local school district were exacting hundreds of dollars per student in mandatory participation fees for band, color guard and other after-school activities.

UNC will appeal FERPA ruling ordering disclosure of athletic department records

(05/12/11 7:27pm)

The chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said Thursday the school will appeal a judge’s decision and seek a stay in a public-records lawsuit filed by media outlets including the Daily Tar Heel student newspaper. The trial judge's April 19decision declared that phone records of university athletic department officials and parking tickets given to student athletes are not protected from disclosure by federal privacy law. In a press release, Chancellor Holden Thorp said the school is appealing because of student privacy rights, not because of a desire to conceal information about UNC's football program. “Our responsibility is to protect the privacy rights of all of our students, whether they’re on the football team, in the marching band or in a Chemistry 101 class.

More aware in Delaware? House bill would, finally, open university meetings and records

(05/19/11 4:57pm)

In 1743, Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia Gazette published a notice announcing the arrival of a new public institution of higher learning: We are informed that there is a Free-School opened at the House of Mr. Alison in Chester County, for the Promotion of Learning, where all Persons may be instructed in the Languages and some other Parts of Polite Literature, without any Expences for their Education. In the centuries since Presbyterian clergyman Francis Alison opened the doors of a 12-student academy in his modest home two miles outside the village of New London, much about the University of Delaware has radically transformed. But this much has not: The public had no legal right to demand access to its meetings or records in 1743, and it still doesn't today. State Rep.

SPLC voices concern over Department of Education's proposed changes to FERPA 'directory information' disclosure

(05/23/11 4:48pm)

For the second time in three years, the U.S. Department of Education is revising its rules governing the confidentiality of student information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The revision getting the most attention -- both positive and negative -- would broaden the universe of government employees and contractors who can obtain student data for accountability purposes, including performance audits and "longitudinal data" studies (tracking the performance of a set of students as they progress through school). Less publicized is the Department's proposal to revamp the concept of "directory information." Directory information operates as an exception to FERPA confidentiality.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: If it 'looks like, smells like, walks like, and quacks like a duck' -- then FOIA it!

(05/24/11 5:33pm)

The nonprofit lobbying organizations that represent city councils, school boards and other governmental entities are undergoing significant, and much-needed, scrutiny by state legislatures and in the courts. The disclosure that the (since-removed) head of the Iowa Association of School Boards received an under-the-table raise boosting her annual pay to an eye-popping $367,000 -- three times what the governor of Iowa makes -- prompted Iowa legislators to patch a loophole in state law and require the IASB to make its records and meetings public just as the Association's member school boards must. Associations representing school boards, superintendents and principals wield enormous influence over policy-making at the state level, and are able to trade on their "quasi-public" goodwill when it suits their strategic purposes.