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Mason says Iowa is ‘not hiding’ behind federal privacy law

[ 13 ] February 9, 2012 |

University of Iowa president Sally Mason on Thursday denounced criticisms of the school’s unwillingness to release information related to investigations of student behavior.

Iowa officials declined to provide information about an investigation surrounding former Hawkeye football player Marcus Coker, his suspension from the Insight Bowl and his ultimate decision to leave Iowa.

Officials said releasing the information would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, a federal law meant to protect the privacy of students and their education records.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is that students have a right to privacy,” Mason said Tuesday. “Student records are not accessible, nor should they be. We owe it to students. Going to school here comes with an expectation for a right to privacy. We don’t step over that line unless, of course, they give us permission.”

Colleges and universities across the country have been criticized by open records advocates and others for using FERPA as a shield against providing any information about students, even information that might not be protected by the law.

Mason said she is aware of such criticisms and said they are not accurate in terms of how her school operates.

“We’re not hiding behind anything,” Mason said. “We’re following federal law.”

FERPA applies to any educational institution that receives federal funding, including all public schools and a majority of private institutions, and applies to all student education records. Up for debate, said Kathleen Richardson, director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, is what student information fits the qualification of an “education record.”

According to Richardson, that debate is playing out in courtrooms across the country.

One such lawsuit filed against Iowa by the Iowa City Press-Citizen recently was argued before the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Press-Citizen argued that a number of documents related to a 2007 sexual assault case involving three student-athletes should be made public. Iowa argued that they are protected under FERPA, Richardson said.

Two lower courts have agreed that the information should be made public. The Supreme Court has not handed down its decision in the case.

Students can file waivers to allow the release of some information. Mason said those waivers apply to very specific information.

Iowa spokesman Tom Moore told the Des Moines Register last month that Coker had signed a waiver that allowed the school to release his academic major and academic standing. Additional information — such as his grade-point average — cannot be released without Coker’s permission, Moore said.

Mason said Thursday that violating FERPA would have “dire consequences” not only for the students involved, but for the university itself.

She said releasing student information protected by FERPA could result in the school losing all of its federal funding — about $400million.

“That would be disastrous,” Mason said.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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