Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.



When I became managing editor of the UP, I joined the FAU listserv, or FAU-l. This open e-mail list allows subscribers to share general info and FAU event details with one another. So, I subscribed to keep current on FAU happenings.

But on Sept. 15, the FAU-l left me feeling violated vicariously.

An FAU staff member had forwarded a distressed student’s e-mail to the FAU-l. In other words, she shared a student’s personal information with the 615 people who subscribed to the e-mail list as of that afternoon.

Then two other staff members discussed the student’s enrollment status in a series of four additional e-mails shared with the FAU-l.

I was horrified — and feared for my own privacy as an FAU student.

All three staff members should have known better. They aren’t minimum-wage secretaries: They are an academic counselor and student athlete relations coordinator (Vanessa Lefton) and office managers (Virginia Smith of the registrar’s office and Kevin Baillargeon of Business Services).

Yet it took an e-mail from the provost’s office to shut them up.
“We need to quit discussing the particulars of this on the [listserv] for student privacy concerns (FERPA),” wrote Associate Provost Michael Armstrong to the FAU-l.

The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is intended to prevent the disclosure of educational records without a student’s written permission. According to FERPA literature posted on the home page of FAU’s Office of the General Counsel, “educational records” includes everything from “registrar’s office records” to “e-mail messages.”

Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center agrees.
“That’s one of the things FERPA was designed to prevent: an unrestricted e-mail list of people both internal and external — people who have a need to know and people who don’t have a need to know — discussing information directly from confidential student records,” said Goldstein.

Perhaps worse than sharing pieces of a student’s educational record, however, is airing her economic struggle.
“My name is Jane Doe*. I am a [student] that could not afford to pay my tuition this semester. I dropped my class and it said drop with withdrawal. So i still owe money? I’m so confused. Please help me,” read the e-mail that Lefton forwarded to the FAU-l.

Jane — who lives with her mother, her sister, and her sister’s two children to save money — shared with me that she had to drop her first master’s class because she could not afford its $957 price tag, given her family’s current economic hardship.
“We’re going through a hard time here,” Jane told me when I tracked her down at her home because the telephone company had disconnected her phone service. “I don’t have the money to pay for it.”

Jane earned her bachelor’s degree in April but has been unable to find a full-time job. So, she figured she’d start graduate school while substitute teaching and working at Papa John’s.

Now Jane feels violated that FAU — the university that granted her seemingly useless degree — would announce to 615 people her inability to afford graduate school.
“It’s an invasion of privacy,” she said. “It is wrong what has happened. It is wrong. My stuff shouldn’t have been on blast for people to see.”

And this fact stands regardless of when or why Jane dropped a class this semester: On Sept. 15, 2009, three FAU staff members violated federal law by sharing part of a student’s educational record via an e-mail list that anyone may subscribe to.

To read the e-mail exchange in which three FAU staff members violated federal law, click here. (File will open as a .pdf.)

*Name has been changed because, unlike FAU, the author respects Jane’s privacy.


Fight for your rights
How to file a privacy complaint

If an academic institution violates the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which governs the privacy of student records, the victim has no legal recourse.
“The Department of Education is the only authority that has the right to enforce FERPA,” said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center. “And the Department of Education can do a couple things, ranging from saying ‘Don’t do that anymore’ to withholding some or all of the school’s federal funding.”

Students can, however, file complaints of alleged FERPA violations with the U.S. Department of Education. For more information about filing such a complaint, visit www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html.

Know your rights
How to protect your privacy

By federal law, academic institutions like FAU generally may not release a student’s educational records without his or her written permission. But these institutions do not need permission to release a student’s directory information, which includes:
– Name
– Dates of attendance
– Address
– Phone number
– Major program
– Date of birth
– Height and weight of athletes
– Degrees, honors and awards received

The only way a student can stop FAU from releasing this information is to complete and submit a waiver form titled “Request for Non-release of Directory Information.”
To request a waiver form or more information about the privacy of student records, please contact the Office of the Registrar:
– Web: www.fau.edu/registrar
– Phone: (561) 297-3050
– Office location: SU 144
– Fax: (561) 297-2756

[Source: www.fau.edu]

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