A lawsuit is a last resort.
But it is in everybody’s best interest to know if the University has handled an investigation into the football team the right way.
By withholding records due to an overly broad interpretation of the law, University officials are inviting speculation that there is something to hide, and that they value protecting that information more than they value the public’s trust.
The Daily Tar Heel is among eight news organizations suing University officials after attempting for several weeks to get records we think are public.
Media requests for documents have been denied after University insistence that records are private based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects a student’s personal educational record—test scores, honor code violations and the like.
We think relationships with sports agents aren’t part of someone’s educational record, and we think the public has a right to know whether former associate head coach John Blake called players right before or after talking to sports agents. We think a list of tutors employed by the University isn’t a part of an educational record, and that the public needs a clearer picture of how one of them came to assist football players in cheating.
No matter what the records say, withholding them is more damaging than releasing them.
As the story of football players’ improper agent benefits and academic infractions continues to unfold, the University can’t afford to lose the public’s trust.
We ask questions that we think will shed light on the way the University does business. University officials are running a taxpayer-funded government entity, and the documents they keep are part of the public record, with few exceptions. When University officials are keeping records out of the public eye more than they should, they are denying the public a chance to hold them accountable.
University officials have failed to understand the benefits of operating in the open while the revelations of football player misconduct blemish their institution’s reputation. It’s a time they can most benefit from the public’s confidence that they are handling it well.
Refusal to provide information invites skepticism, now and during future public challenges.
The DTH is not happy to file a lawsuit – we would have preferred it didn’t come to this point.
But the University has over-extended FERPA, and it has proven a barrier to our coverage and the public’s right to know.
It’s time to let a judge decide.
Sarah Frier is a senior journalism major from Los Altos, CA. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.