ACLU unsettled about student privacy concerns despite change in Nev. solicitation policy

The Nevada public college system voted in early March to amend its policy regarding the release of student directory information to both commercial and non-commercial solicitors, providing students with a more obvious choice to “opt out” of such solicitations.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which threatened in January to sue the University and Community College System of Nevada for alleged violations of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act with its old policy, was unimpressed by the change. FERPA, commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, regulates the release of student education records.

Now, as before, students enrolled at schools in the system can elect to remove their names from mailing lists the system sends out to solicitors. The policy change lies in the fact that students can now “opt out” by checking a box in a waiver that appears in boldface type in the academic calendar section of each university course catalog.

The information used to appear in an obscure section in the back of the catalog, said system Chancellor Jane Nichols.

Students who do nothing with the waiver will still receive a variety of mailings, both about policy and fee changes within their college, and about credit-card deals offered by the Delaware-based independent credit-card issuer MBNA, with which the university system has an agreement.

While the colleges maintain that the directory information is not technically sold to MBNA, the campuses within the system receive a small percentage of profits from the credit-card purchases of former students who use MBNA credit cards.

Gary Peck, executive director of the Nevada ACLU, said that the University of Nevada at Reno alone made $58,000 last year from alumni credit-card purchases made through the MBNA program.

Alumni groups at colleges in the system have complained the new policy will “cripple” their mailing lists, but a motion to provide students the opportunity to “opt in” to receive academic and activity information but “opt out” of commercial mailings was denied by the board of regents.

While the board of regents said the double waiver would pose a filing problem for the system, the Nevada ACLU disagreed.

The Nevada ACLU said it plans to bring the issue to the next board of regents meeting.