Explanation of Password Protected Policies

By September 18, 2009

In recent years, FIRE has been dismayed to note that a few colleges and universities, both public and private, have begun to hide policies previously published online from public view. Typically, those colleges that choose to hide their policies either condition access to the policies on entry of a password, or take the policies offline altogether and rely on interested parties to obtain printed copies.

Unfortunately, hiding policies in this manner poses a unique threat to student rights. If policies are not published or easily accessible online, students are less likely to have been apprised of their content. This lack of notice is problematic in terms of the basic considerations of due process that schools should afford their students. Students have a right to be treated fairly, with full knowledge of the policies and procedures they are expected to follow. 

In addition to the lack of notice and the simple inconvenience of being unable to access school policies online, restricting access to student policies also presents a fundamental consumer information problem. If prospective students and their families cannot easily ascertain which policies the students are to be governed by upon arrival on campus, it is all but impossible for those students to make informed choices about the institution’s values and priorities. Further, it is possible that policies students learn about only upon arriving on campus may be of dubious legal enforceability, given the fact that they may fairly be deemed a type of bait and switch, contradicting the promise of freedom and tolerance that may be found in recruitment materials.

FIRE suspects that rather than maintain acceptable policies, some schools have decided to hide them. This is a deeply troubling development, but it is easily reversible.