University of Kansas officials have placed two fraternities on probation for hazing in the last academic year, but won’t disclose what the hazing entailed.
Delta Tau Delta is accused of engaging in hazing in the fall; Phi Beta Sigma, in the spring. Documents given to reporters disclose the punishments (including being barred from candidate intake and loss of participation in events), but not the hazing itself.
In a written statement, KU officials said they redacted the details of the hazing “to account for the privacy interests of the individual students who are members of these organizations,” citing FERPA.
Source: Lawrence Journal-World, Two KU fraternities are on probation for hazing; university won’t say why (12/20/2015).
Former SPLC Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: It feels like whenever Greek Life gets involved, a university’s interpretation of FERPA grows three sizes. Like the Grinch’s heart, if Greek Life was Christmas.
Here, KU is claiming that a federal statute that protects personally identifiable education records prevents disclosure a description of actions. That’s not true; the actions just need to be redacted to remove names and other specifically identifiable information.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that Santa’s reindeer were accused of hazing one of their new members. The report from the Elf investigation includes the following:
Can this record be disclosed? Yes, if properly redacted to obscure Rudolph’s identity, like this:
See what I did there? I took out Rudolph’s name, and I took out the name that the other Reindeer called him, because that could identify him. (I mean, who else in the Reindeer would be taunted that way?) But I left in the basic allegations and the game Monopoly, because all reindeer enjoy the game Monopoly equally.
(While people who have firsthand knowledge of the situation may know which reindeer was excluded from Monopoly, this record would not disclose that identity to them, because they already know it. According to the DOE’s rules, the question is whether a reasonable member of the campus community would know who was excluded from reindeer games; in this case, as only people with personal knowledge possessed that information, they would not.)
So KU’s claim that the entire list of offenses needs to be redacted because of FERPA is just plain false. And what’s even sadder is that, if FERPA worked the way KU suggests it does (that is, that knowing a Greek organization’s name makes it impossible to make student records anonymous if they refer to the organization) it would also prohibit KU from disclosing the list of punishments imposed on the organizations. So KU would be violating FERPA anyway.
We rate this: not protected by FERPA at all