N.Y. university punishes editor, adviser for publishing student’s grades

NEW YORK — The editor and adviser of the studentnewspaper at Long Island University were punished by the school for publishingan article that disclosed the grades of a former Student Government Associationpresident.Adviser Mike Bush said he was fired from his position thismonth and Justin Grant was suspended from the newspaper for a month two daysafter the article appeared in the Jan. 21 edition of the Seawanhaka. Thearticle, written by Grant, cited the SGA president’s grades as a possiblecause for his sudden resignation.Bush said administrators at the privateuniversity in Brooklyn also retaliated against the newspaper by changing thelocks of its offices to keep editors out. The university appointed the school’sdirector of student activities, Karlene Jackson-Thompson, as the newspaper’sadviser.School officials said the adviser and editor were punished forviolating student privacy laws. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Actimposes financial penalties on schools that release student educational records,including grades, without their consent. The Department of Education, however,has said that the federal law only applies to university employees or thoseacting on their behalf, not student newspapers.Bush, a professor at theuniversity, said that while he did e-mail the grades to Grant, he was not thesource for the information. Bush said a Seawanhaka reporterlearned that the SGA president resigned because of ”personalreasons.” The reporter spoke with sources who divulged that the SGApresident had failed two classes, which forced him to resign. Grant was out ofthe office at the time of the discovery, so Bush said he e-mailed Grant theinformation.Bush said he then discussed with Grant whether to publishthe grades.”I told [Grant] that, yes, I would publish thegrades” if I were him, Bush said. ”But ultimately the decision wasup to him.”Bush said the school is punishing Grant because of hisdecision to print the grades. He said in addition to the suspension, grant islosing scholarship money he would earn as editor, which pays for about 75percent of Grant’s tuition.Grant wrote a column in the Jan. 28edition of the paper apologizing to the SGA president, but he explained hisreasoning behind publishing the student’s grades.”My decision toinclude the grades was based on the rationale that when an elected officialresigns from office, the constituents have a right to know why,” Grantwrote. ”This wasn’t a personal attack on [the SGA president]. Thiswas based on some elementary journalistic principles we are taught in journalismclasses here at LIU.”In the 1979 case Bilney v. EveningStar, a Maryland court said a college newspaper did not invadestudent’s privacy when it published the grades of members of theuniversity’s basketball team because the athletes were considered publicfigures.According to a Feb. 10 Newsday article, BernadetteWalker, LIU’s dean of students, said publishing a student’s grades,regardless of their status as a campus leader, is a violation of privacy.According to a statement released by the university, ”Senioradministrators at the campus and at university center have initiated a fullinvestigation of the matter in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of theissues at hand and to review current editorial procedures and policies forstudent publications to ensure that they safeguard our students’confidential information.”Private schools, such as Long IslandUniversity, are not required to give journalists the same First Amendmentprotections as those attending public schools. But according to LIU’s StudentCode of Conduct, ”[The university] is committed to preserving the exerciseof any right guaranteed to the individual by theconstitution.”Bush said it is unclear when the weekly newspaperwill resume publication.”At this point, the newspaper is not beingpublished,” Bush said. ”Many of the journalism classes areorganically tied to the newspaper. It’s a learning tool for our journalismstudents.”Peg Byron, director of public relations, said thejournalism students have full access to the newspaper room, but ”thestudents haven’t told us if they’re going to publish ornot.”Grant, Walker and Thompson did not return phone calls. The Student Press Law Center could not reach the former SGA president for comment.