A former Southeast Missouri State University international student was arrested last week, charged with attempting to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York with a car bomb. The university has released some information about the suspect, noting that he was enrolled for one semester and was majoring in cybersecurity. A spokesman for North South University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which the suspect attending before moving to the United States, said he was a “terrible” student.
Anticipating media inquiries, Southeast Missouri State sent a letter to students, faculty and staff, instructing them to remember FERPA and its restrictions on releasing information about students if they talked with members of the press. When The Southeast Arrow, the school’s newspaper, interviewed President Kenneth Dobbins later that day, he declined to comment on the statement from North South University, citing FERPA. Dobbins also told the paper that the Bangladesh school shouldn’t have given the statement, again citing FERPA.
Source: The Southeast Arrow, President releases letter assuring campus is safe (Oct. 18, 2012) and The Southeast Arrow, Dobbins addresses campus safety, will meet with international students (Oct. 18, 2012).
Former SPLC Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: Is this really a thing that happened? Are university presidents struggling with this issue? Am I an animated map in a Schoolhouse Rock! short designed to teach basic geography? Maybe I should write this one in open letter format.
Dear President Dobbins:
I heard you thought FERPA might apply to North South University, an institution in Bangladesh. As you presumably know, the U.S. Department of Education makes rules for–curiously enough–the United States. I had this visual aid commissioned to help explain the rest of the problem with your analysis:
Shout out to Mrs. Brown’s fourth grade class for drawing the visual aid. (Just kidding. I didn’t ask a fourth grader to correct you. But I could have. I easily could have.)
Also, while your reminder to school employees about FERPA obligations was timely, sending the letter to students is a mistake, because non-employee students don’t have any obligations under FERPA and are free to talk about this student to anyone they like.
I hope this helps you understand FERPA and geography and maybe even give you a sense of wonder about this big ol’ world full of countries.
Attorney Advocate, SPLC
Part-Time Animated Map