Friday, Southern Connecticut State University released a statement announcing that it had placed its head baseball coach, Tim Shea, on immediate administrative leave due to allegations of NCAA violations. In the schools press release, the university says it cannot comment further because they cannot release any more information about Shea’s administrative leave because of FERPA.
SPLC Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: While it’s entirely possible that some of the NCAA violations in question touch on student behavior, that’s not why the institution can’t “provide further comment.” For most violations, disclosing the nature of the violation with identities redacted won’t disclose anything about students in the program.
SCSU basically looks like it’s fudging the details in its statement. The statement amounts to saying, “we won’t tell you anything, and that’s because of internal rules and FERPA.” So it’s not even quite saying that FERPA is the reason they won’t comment further. It’s a misuse of FERPA in that they’re using federal law to give a veneer of respectability to what is essentially a press release saying, “go to hell, we’re not answering your questions because we don’t have to.”
That said, is there any FERPA-protected information in play here? Possibly. It really depends on the violations. But that’s not why they won’t “comment further.” They could go farther than they did without going anywhere near FERPA’s rules.
In essence, SCSU’s invoking FERPA to explain why they won’t disclose the nature of the violation is like a store owner invoking shoplifting law to explain why they won’t let anyone into the store. Yes, it’s possible someone would shoplift if they got in the store, but the line being drawn is so far away from the law being cited that it’s clearly not the real motivation for the action.
Because they fudged the details by invoking internal policy and FERPA in the same breath, they’re more guilty of intellectual dishonesty than FERPA wrongdoing.