On Nov. 21 The Daily Tar Heel and three other news organizations filed a lawsuit against the University to release the records of students convicted of sexual assault.
The Daily Tar Heel requested the records on Sept. 30 and set an Oct. 28 deadline for receiving them from UNC. UNC denied the request, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as a reason for keeping the names private.
“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,” Joel Curran, vice chancellor of communications and public affairs, said in a statement released in reaction to the lawsuit.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said in an October interview while FERPA does protect a student’s right to privacy, there is an exception for confidentiality if a student has committed a crime.
“Congress made the decision to carve out that set of records where there is an overriding public right to know,” he said. “If we kept those things confidential, then a person could be living in the dorms right up the hall from a serial rapist and not even know it, so there’s a compelling public safety purpose in disclosing those records.”
Hugh Stevens, the lawyer representing The Daily Tar Heel, said this is why The Daily Tar Heel and other organizations decided to sue the University.
“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.”
Survivors of sexual assault said they also see a need for transparency from the University. R., a survivor of sexual assault who wishes to remain anonymous, went through the Title IX adjudication process, which took almost a year.
“It completely takes away your sense of control over your life,” she said in September. “Which is just a really horrible feeling.”