After a searing report from the Department of Education documenting the University of Virginia’s repeated failures to effectively respond to reports of sexual assault by students, the Washington Post asked UVa President Teresa Sullivan whether anyone had been expelled from the university for rape during the past year. Yes, Sullivan told the Post, but “she declined to elaborate, citing federal student privacy laws.”
Source: The Washington Post, ”Dept. of Education: U-Va. violated federal rules for responding to sexual violence.” (9/21/2015)
Former SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte:
That’s the minimum pounds-per-square-inch inflation that the NFL requires for a game-legal football. That is a statistic that quarterback Tom Brady has memorized better than the New England Patriots’ playbook. It’s a number seared into the back of his retinas. Because it’s what nearly cost Brady four regular-season games before a judge lifted his league-imposed suspension for (the league believed, though a judge found the evidence insufficient) directing that balls be deflated before a key playoff game.
We mention this because, if you are Teresa Sullivan, you have lived every day of the last 51 months – the duration of the DOE’s torturously slow investigation – with a Tom-Brady-like focus on the law governing campus sexual assault, an issue with the potential to torpedo your presidency and the institution it rode in on.
And yet, you still somehow managed to get it wrong.
Here is what federal student privacy law actually says about sexual assault cases resulting in expulsion: They’re not private. Not even a little bit.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit an institution of postsecondary education from disclosing the final results of any disciplinary proceeding conducted by such institution against a student who is an alleged perpetrator of any crime of violence … or a nonforcible sex offense, if the institution determines as a result of that disciplinary proceeding that the student committed a violation of the institution’s rules or policies with respect to such crime or offense.
20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g(b)(6)(B).
Here’s almost certainly what Sullivan was actually saying: “I choose not to tell you, because the answer is ‘one,’ and when you have 26 rapes a year, ‘one’ sounds pretty much as bad as ‘zero.’”
This makes sense – well, not real actual sense, but “UVa sense” – once you consider that a UVa administrator was quoted in the DOE report as saying that the university had never in its history expelled anyone for sexual assault because, even when the guy walks into the hearing and admits he did it, “one is never 100% sure what occurred.” (That hasn’t – fun actual fact that the Washington Post helpfully pointed out – stopped the university from expelling people for cheating on tests, because apparently less than 100 percent certainty is enough when your victim is a Calc 201 midterm.)
So even though Congress actually rewrote FERPA in 1991 to provide for the disclosure of outcomes of sexual assaults, and even though that law is written in official federal statute books available in libraries across the country including at UVa, “one is never 100% sure” that the words on the page actually mean what they say. As opposed to what you wish they said.
UVa is wrong on the law of student privacy. For sure. 100 percent.
We rate this: Not protected by FERPA at all