ACE, on behalf of nine other higher education associations, yesterday filed an amicus brief to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the University of Illinois’s effort to keep information about student applicants private.
The case, Chicago Tribune Company vs. University of Illinois Board of Trustees, is part of the ongoing dispute over student records stemming from The Chicago Tribune’s 2009 series of articles, “Clout Goes to College.” The series looked into a list of applicants kept by the university which included the relatives of certain influential individuals.
The Chicago Tribune Company submitted a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act seeking to inspect the records of these applicants, but the university denied the request based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student records at institutions receiving federal funds. However, a district court judge ruled that FERPA does not actually prohibit the release of the student records because the school has the option of rejecting all federal funding in order not to be bound by the law.
The university is appealing that ruling.
“The district court’s decision could require public colleges and universities to release student grades, test scores, financial information and copies of tax returns filed as part of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), documentation of a disability submitted by students seeking accommodations, even application essays that may contain intensely personal information about a student’s family issues or past problems,” said ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy in a statement yesterday.
“The district court’s decision also would deprive institutions of vital federal funding that opens their doors to students who otherwise do not have the means to attend one of the nation’s colleges or universities. The ‘choice’ the court presents—institutions can say no to more than $193 billion in federal funding in order to release personal information about their students—is no choice at all.”
The U.S. Department of Justice also filed an amicus brief in support of the University of Illinois. To see that brief along with other information on the case, see the university’s website.