SPLC urges Education Secretary to side with transparency, not concealment, in Montana sexual assault investigation

It’s painfully well-established that colleges lie about student privacy to conceal public records they’d rather not disclose. When the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) is misused to withhold information about athletic scandals or employee misconduct, it’s aggravating.

 But when FERPA is misused to withhold information about campus sexual assaults, it’s disgraceful.

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Education, through legal counsel with the Justice Department, served notice that it would be joining the University of Montana’s appeal of a district-court order requiring the disclosure of public records about how the university system handed a star football player’s disciplinary appeal in a sexual assault case.

Despite the Obama administration’s lip service to improving the transparency of how colleges deal with sexual assault, at the first opportunity to put that resolve to the test, the federal government is throwing its weight behind continued concealment.

Today, the SPLC sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan urging him to pull the plug on this misguided use of federal resources. As the letter points out, the Department rarely intercedes in legal disputes involving FERPA and access to public records — and has never done so on the side of disclosure — and to decide that this case merits an exception to the Department’s normal practice of abstention is, to say the least, tone-deaf.

We hope that Secretary Duncan and the White House will do the right thing and rescind the Department’s Dec. 12 motion to join the Krakauer case.