The lawsuit was filed on behalf of The Daily Tar Heel, the Capital Broadcasting Company, the Charlotte Observer Publishing Company and The Durham Herald Company against Chancellor Carol Folt as the custodian of the records and Gavin Young, senior director for public records at UNC.
The lawsuit requested the University appear in court and present the records, declared the records public in accordance with Chapter 132 of the North Carolina General Statutes, solicited the inspection and copying of the records permitted under Chapter 132 and asked for compensation for attorney fees.
Chapter 132 of the N.C. General Statutes defines UNC as a public agency of the state government. As such, their records are the property of the people.
Joel Curran, vice chancellor of communications and private affairs, released a statement on behalf of the University in reaction to the lawsuit. He said UNC is firmly committed to FERPA regulations.
“Carolina has a profound responsibility to protect and vigorously defend the privacy of sexual assault victims and all students, including witnesses, who may be involved in a campus Title IX process,” Curran said.
Hugh Stevens, the attorney representing The Daily Tar Heel in the case, said the state law under the N.C. General Statutes takes precedence.
“Basically, in our view, the public records law in North Carolina requires the information must be released,” he said. “There are cases, some of them under FERPA, where federal law basically overrides the rule of state law, but in this instance, FERPA specifically says that schools may release this kind of information.”
Jane Wester, editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, said the release of the information contained within the records is important to hold the University accountable to its sexual assault policy.
“It would help us tremendously into figuring out basically how seriously UNC is taking these cases, how many of the cases that enter the system get resolved — because we can’t really even see that right now — so basically, there’s stuff we can report, we can talk to survivors and stuff without the record, but we really need to see more on UNC’s side of it.”
Cases of student newspapers suing their universities are rare because student newspapers are usually financially supported by their universities, Wester said. Since The Daily Tar Heel is in the unique position to scrutinize the university it covers in this manner, the lawsuit seemed like the right thing to do.
“I think that what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s so unusual and so important that we’re financially independent from the university, because it’s literally what enables us to do this,” she said.
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