On Tuesday, a state judge told the University that it was overusing a federal statute to illegally withhold information from the public.
The University should not have denied The Daily Tar Heel and other media organizations certain records they requested during the NCAA investigation into the football team. Judge Howard Manning reaffirmed what media organizations have been frustrated about for a while — that UNC has used a federal student privacy act beyond its intent.
Chancellor Holden Thorp had an opportunity Tuesday to trust the judge’s interpretation of the law and move toward a more open administration.
But instead of taking the opportunity to re-evaluate its overly broad use of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act — which protects a student’s personal educational record — the University held its ground and resorted to defense. Thorp said he was disappointed with the court’s ruling.
“This has far-reaching implications for all of our students and their records that we believe federal law protects,” he said in a statement.
But there’s a difference between protecting a student’s educational record — their grades, their academic honor court infractions — and shielding other information from public view because it might be partially related to a student.
Thorp’s reaction to the ruling sets the wrong tone.
The University is a public institution, and when we ask it to be transparent, we should be able to trust it to be.
Through the lawsuit, the media sought records including phone logs of football coach Butch Davis and former assistant coach John Blake, and athlete parking tickets — both of which UNC denied due to FERPA.