FIRE article in The Chronicle of Higher Education proposes fixes for FERPA

January 15, 2018

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education lays bare why the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is broken and provides a roadmap for fixing it.

In the article, FIRE’s Zach Greenberg describes why FERPA is in dire need of revision:

[I]n its current form, Ferpa is a privacy statute that doesn’t protect privacy, a rights statute that creates no enforceable rights, and an access statute that allows colleges to conceal information that would invite bad press. It has been invoked to stifle police investigations into campus crime and cover up scandal after scandal concerning college athletics, cronyism in admissions practices, and administrative malfeasance.

Zach goes on to discuss the many ways colleges abuse FERPA to the detriment of their students. For example, several universities erroneously invoked FERPA in refusing to investigate their students’ sexual assault allegations unless they agreed to gag orders about their complaints. That’s just one way in which universities misinterpret FERPA — a statute originally designed to protect student privacy — in order to violate student rights with near-impunity.

In terms of solutions, the article urges federal lawmakers to provide meaningful enforcement mechanisms in order to hold schools accountable for FERPA abuses. Other options, such as allowing individuals to sue schools for violating the statute, are drawn from a law review article co-authored by Zach and FIRE’s Adam Goldstein in the Notre Dame Journal of Legislation.

We encourage those interested in repairing higher education’s student privacy law to check out the article in The Chronicle.