UNC doesn’t release the names of students found guilty of sexual assault or the sanctions they face — even though those records are unprotected by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — because it believes it has no legal obligation to do so.
But in the annual security reports UNC filed from 2000 to 2011 under the federal Clery Act, UNC said it would publish the names of students found guilty of sexual assault.
“If the accused is found guilty, the Office of the Dean of Students, on request, will make public the name of the accused, the violation committed and the sanction imposed,” reports read until that language disappeared in 2012.
Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls, who has worked in the department since 2005, was unaware of that clause.
He thinks that language inaccurately represented UNC policies.
“It has never been the policy or practice of the Office of the Dean of Students, or any other University department to my knowledge, to release the names of individuals convicted of sexual assault pursuant to a public records request.”
Melinda Manning, who was an assistant dean of students from 2001 to 2012, said otherwise.
“I knew that our documents said we would publish the names of students found guilty of crimes of violence — as allowed by FERPA,” she said in an email, but she said she didn’t know if the office ever got such a request then.
Sauls said the reports are only summaries of UNC policies.
Regina Stabile, director of institutional records, told The Daily Tar Heel in July that though the University was allowed to identify guilty students, FERPA “does not mandate such public disclosure.”
Student Press Law Center Director Frank LoMonte chided the University for what he called a habitual misunderstanding of public records law.
“Congress said that the outcomes ‘may’ be released, and some college attorneys who are either dishonest or not very smart have been citing that word ‘may’ as an excuse not to release the outcomes, but that of course is not what Congress meant,” he said via email.
“Once FERPA no longer applies to a record, then it becomes a public record at a state institution and must be disclosed. It’s really rather remarkable that UNC, apparently having learned nothing from touching the hot stove of secrecy, would take the position that whether your next-door neighbor in the dorm is on disciplinary probation for rape is none of your business.”
UNC spokesman Rick White disagreed.
“Carolina disagrees with Mr. LoMonte’s view of FERPA. There is no gray area. ‘May’ does not mean ‘shall,’” White said in a statement. “Neither FERPA nor its enabling regulations require a university — state or private — to release the final results of a student disciplinary proceeding involving a crime of violence or a sex offense.”
He said identifying the perpetrator might identify a victim, too.
Andrea Pino, a UNC alumna who filed a federal complaint against UNC for its handling of her sexual assault case, was surprised UNC ever said it would identify guilty students publicly.
“Schools are so inclined to not say what students are being accused and what happens to them. Usually nothing happens to them,” she said.