The nonprofit organization Security On Campus recently reached out to Tufts University concerned with one key part of their sexual assault policy may be in violation with federal policy. Daniel Carter, who is their Director of Public Policy contacted the university.
The Tufts Daily says:
The nonprofit organization Security on Campus, Inc. (SOC) claims that a provision in the adjudication process that calls for the destruction of all case materials after the case has been resolved may conflict with certain provisions of a federal statute and could require reworking or revision. But Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman refuted the idea and said that Tufts’ current policies are compliant with federal regulations.
Reitman says that this decision was due to comply with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and maintain the privacy of the people involved. I went to the Department of Education’s website to see what is required under FERPA. I did not see anything that mandated the immediate destruction of notes regarding the outcome of sexual assault adjudication.
In short, Wikipedia says:
The regulations provide that educational agencies and institutions that receive funding under a program administered by the U. S. Department of Education must provide students with access to their education records, an opportunity to seek to have the records amended, and some control over the disclosure of information from the records. With several exceptions, schools must have a student’s consent prior to the disclosure of education records.
I also went to the official FERPA section on the Department of Education’s website. It appears that FERPA is about protecting privacy of records so a school does not have to destroy them. Usually a student needs to give consent for records to be disclosed. There are exceptions, however.
A school MAY disclose education records without consent when:
- The disclosure is to school officials who have been determined to have legitimate educational interests as set forth in the institution’s annual notification of rights to students;
- The student is seeking or intending to enroll in another school;
- The disclosure is to state or local educational authorities auditing or enforcing Federal or State supported education programs or enforcing Federal laws which relate to those programs;
- The disclosure is to the parents of a student who is a dependent for income tax purposes;
- The disclosure is in connection with determining eligibility, amounts, and terms for financial aid or enforcing the terms and conditions of financial aid;
- The disclosure is pursuant to a lawfully issued court order or subpoena; or
- The information disclosed has been appropriately designated as directory information by the school.
Okay, so what stands out to me is that without consent the records would have to be released for auditing or evaluations. Is this an attempt to get rid of the details between a student’s report and the potential sanctions placed on an individual? I think if there is any wrong doing there is a duty for the school to allow for as thorough investigation as possible and I am truly troubled that Tufts University is depending this practice. It seems that the cases where details would be divulged would require a student’s consent OR it would be to people or institutions that would be acting in the students (and the community’s) best interest. Upon Googling, I did not see any changes in FERPA that would initiate this change in the policy; I am confident that FERPA did not say ANYTHING about destroying records right after adjudication, either.
In addition to the records issue, Carter also pointed out that the confidentiality notice is wrong because “victims have an unconditional right to disclose the final outcome,” a statement with which I clearly agree. Unfortunately Dean Reitman is not on the same page. His defense is that it has been a long-term policy (I did not read that in the sexual assault policy when I was a student) and that others schools have that policy as well. In my opinion, saying that “everybody is doing it” is not a justification for one’s actions (or so my mother told me when I was five). The Center of Public Integrity published an investigative series about the epidemic of colleges that consistently retraumatize victims and make exceptions for rapists – does Tufts truly want to stay in the trend and remain in the ranks with perpetrators of campus crime coverups??
In fact, if you check out CPI’s campus sexual assault series you can read how Carter himself was able to petition the Department of Education against schools like Tufts that insist on confidentiality clauses. In 2004, the Department ruled AGAINST Georgetown for the confidentiality rule and told them to cease it immediately.
In July 2004, the department agreed, issuing a ruling against Georgetown for its “impermissible non-disclosure agreement for Clery Act purposes.” It ruled that Clery grants alleged victims a right to their proceeding outcomes, without restrictions, despite FERPA. Its final determination letter, dated July 16, required Georgetown to “discontinue its use of non-disclosure agreements.”
In November 2008, the Department ruled against University of Virginia as well.
In November 2008, however, the Education Department determined the school had violated the Clery Act. In a letter to UVA President John Casteen, it stated “the University cannot require an accuser to agree to abide by its non-disclosure policy, in writing or otherwise.”
…The department’s UVA decision has made it clear that alleged student victims are no longer required to keep quiet about their hearing results. This year, in fact, the Education Department has amended its FERPA regulations to specify as much.
So I am shocked by Dean Reitman’s statements. In the Daily article he insists that the University changes policies as the federal laws change, but then staunchly defends the sexual assault confidentiality clause when it’s CLEARLY not in compliance. It seems like there is a long road ahead for those of us who want to see change on Tufts’ campus.