Stanford responds to FERPA protest requests

Jan. 18, 2017, 11:35 p.m.

Controversy over the ban of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) continues as the University’s dismissive response to requests for FERPA records sent to protest the ban left many students and alumni upset.

The “Fight Back with FERPA” protest was initiated by the Fountain Hopper (FoHo) in a December issue following the University’s decision to suspend the Band through spring quarter 2017.

“We don’t think passionate letters will make a difference… The admin doesn’t give a shit about what you do or think,” the FoHo email read. “A billion reports and promises to change did nothing for Band over the last year.”

Instead, FoHo readers were urged to send Stanford a FERPA request using a provided link to protest, among other issues, the hard alcohol ban, the administration’s handling of sexual assault on campus and the suspension of the Band.

“Our mission was to draw attention to the fact that for a long period of time the University has stamped all over what the students want,” an anonymous representative from the FoHo said. “The Band was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back, but there’s been this steady drumbeat of persistent willful ignorance on the part of the University.”

According to the FoHo, several hundreds clicked the link provided in the December newsletter to submit their auto-request. However, Vice President for University Communications Lisa Lapin said that the University recorded only 161 auto-requests for FERPA records.

Following the submission of these requests, Provost John Etchemendy wrote in an open letter to the Stanford community that the University was committed to “[finding] a path forward.”

Those who submitted automated requests returned from winter break to an email from the Office of the Registrar regarding the University’s stance on both the ban on the Band and the subsequent FERPA auto-request protest, quoting passages from the FoHo.

“Stanford believes that this template-based request … constitutes a misuse of FERPA,” said Thomas Black, associate vice provost for student and academic services and University Registrar, in the email. “This law is intended to allow students access to their education records; it is not a mechanism for protest.”

The email also states that the University intended to seek guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) on the legitimacy of the submitted requests.

Under FERPA, the University would be required to respond to student requests within 45 days of submission. According to Black, those who submitted an auto-request through the FoHo’s link would now be required to schedule an in-person appointment with the Registrar within 10 days of receiving Stanford’s response, or else the University would consider their request withdrawn.

Published shortly after Black’s statement, the FoHo’s latest issue called administration’s response to the requests a “pretty open-shut violation of FERPA.” According to its representative, the FoHo believes the inclusion of a message in support of the Marching Band should not nullify students’ rights under FERPA.

“We strongly support the right of students to access information [under FERPA] for whatever reason might be relevant to them,” they said. “That is a fairly strong stance we’ve taken publicly, and we will continue to do so so long as the administration wants to shirk its legal duty.”

The FoHo launched a similar campaign in Jan. 2015, encouraging students to submit legal FERPA requests to see their admissions records. Following the mass email, administration received over 2,800 requests from FoHo subscribers.

While there is no detailed estimate available for the cost to the University to process the FERPA requests from the FoHo’s latest campaign, Lapin says that it is important for students to recognize that the procedure would be highly labor intensive for the Office of the Registrar.

“Fulfilling unnecessary requests would divert time from other support for students,” she said in an email. “So the cost would be ultimately borne by all Stanford students and come from money paid by students to the University for student support.”

According to Lapin, the FPCO has yet to respond to the University’s query on the validity of the received requests.


Contact Cindy Kuang at ckuang ‘at’

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