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UNC to grant students' requests for admissions files under FERPA

“We are glad to comply with the law,” said Steve Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions.

The student-led effort was sparked by The Fountain Hopper, an anonymous Stanford University newsletter that, in January, sent out instructions for requesting admissions files under FERPA.

The 1974 law has two primary objectives — protecting students’ information from being released to third parties without permission and allowing students access to their educational files.

Upon request for admissions files, universities have 45 days to respond, according to FERPA.

Farmer said UNC has seen its first requests ever to view admissions files this year, and the admissions department is still working to establish a procedure for honoring these requests.

Still, access to admissions files will not necessarily reveal a concrete reason for acceptance, he said. The admissions process is too holistic and dependent upon basic “human experience” to provide a single rationale, he said.

When folders are eventually released, Farmer said they will not include teachers’ recommendation letters — one of the primary causes of the admissions department’s research before releasing information. Only students who did not waive the FERPA rights — prominently located on the Common Application — would be permitted to view recommendations.

What would remain, Farmer said, might be a note or two about an application and students’ essays and transcripts.

Tara Schimelman, Samantha Buckshon, Brooke Tucker and Courtney Brown — all seniors in high school in Mooresville — said they would want to see their records.

Farmer said the admissions department respects each individual’s decision, but he wouldn’t personally choose to view his own admissions file.

Following a stream of requests to view academic files, universities like Yale School of Law and Stanford have reconsidered their policy for admissions information.

Yale Law deleted admissions and career evaluations on Feb. 25 without notice. Stanford’s 20-minute viewing sessions of files was short-lived, too, as the school has announced it won’t be taking more requests — the Stanford Daily reported that unrequested files have been deleted.

Advocacy groups like Students for Fair Admissions, a group that is suing UNC-Chapel Hill over its admissions policies, have called for the reversal of such deletion policies. They argue admissions files should be maintained for a substantial amount of time.

Edward Blum, director of Students for Fair Admissions, said Congress should revisit the FERPA legislation to clarify for colleges and universities how long they’re required to keep students’ information on file.

Anne Klinefelter, a UNC law professor, said FERPA’s admissions policy — often criticized for its ambiguity — applies only to students who choose to enroll in the institution.

Klinefelter said the deletion of admissions documents would be reasonable considering the desire to protect students’ records in the name of better cybersecurity.

“(But) I do not think an institution would be FERPA compliant if it were to adopt a policy or practice of destroying education records in response to each student’s request for those records,” she said.

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