Univ. of Utah professors disciplined after giving student's grades to newspaper

UTAH — The University of Utah could face a suit from a student journalist because two professors in January improperly looked up his grades and sent them to the editor of the student newspaper.

Gary Ellis, the chairman of the university’s parks, recreation and tourism department, and John C. Crossley, a professor in the same department, did not take kindly to an October column for the newspaper. Brandon L. Winn wrote that the “fair-weather fans” of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team were “about as bright as a Parks and Tourism major.”

Ellis and Crossley gained access to Winn’s grades and sent them — some of which are not all that high, according to Winn — along with a letter of complaint to the newspaper’s editor and business manager. Faculty and staff members of the university must first fill out a request form that is reviewed by the registar’s office in order to receive students grades. It is unclear if Ellis and Crossley followed this procedure.

The professors were reprimanded by the administration after Winn charged that the incident had violated his privacy under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. The federal law, commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, allows punishment of universities for the release of student’s records without the consent of the student.

Winn and the American Civil Liberties Union have threatened to sue the university for violating his privacy if the administration does not tighten security on the databases that contain grades and other student information.