A plea for restoring common sense to out-of-control federal secrecy laws

It’s no secret that FERPA is out of control. Enacted in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act aimed to protect the confidentiality of students’ “educational records.” But today, thanks to over-broad definitions, coupled with the Draconian threat of cutting universities’ federal funding if violated, the law is causing universities to consistently err on the side of secrecy, keeping information of public interest hidden under a misplaced redaction bar.

In the May 14 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the SPLC’s Frank LoMonte tackles the current state of FERPA’s rampant misuse, highlighting some of the most extreme applications of the federal law that student and professional journalists alike have run into, and pointing out the irrational interpretations of “education records.”

Despite the dire state of the law — a law that admittedly has the well-intentioned goal of preventing disclosure of students’ private academic information — it’s not too late to turn it around. But there has to be a move away from considering only secrecy without regard for the public interest.  The Department of Education and the Obama administration need to take a step toward transparency and embrace FERPA reform.

Read the entire piece in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only).