Someone recently told me that a country with the word “democratic” or “republic” in its title is neither democratic nor a republic. The same oxymoronic logic can be said of Ohio University administrators in defending the new policy of no longer releasing Title IX investigation reports to the news media.
The reason administrators gave for suppressing the information is to protect student privacy. Such a policy change has nothing to do with protecting student privacy and everything to do with protecting the university from bad headlines.
University officials are terribly uncomfortable in dealing with the aftermath of claims against former English professor Andrew Escobedo, journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango and others, while completely comfortable in removing accountability when students seek university assistance to report sexual assault, sexual harassment and other matters involving a lack of equal opportunity.
The university’s concerns for privacy are couched in FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which often is cited by university administrators everywhere regarding information they don’t want the public to know. The purpose of FERPA is to keep individual students’ information such as grades, attendance and other academic matters confidential, not to obstruct potentially criminal acts.
In fact, one of the exemptions to FERPA is records in the sole possession of instructional, supervisory and administrative personnel. In other words, the university is violating FERPA by citing FERPA in this instance.
Shame, shame, shame. If I could think of a stronger word, I would use it.
This is not only an affront to the civil rights of students making complaints but also against everyone who has a relationship with Ohio University and wonders what the heck is going on across campus.
Think headlines are bad now? Wait until prospective students, their parents and alums realize that Ohio University values administrators’ bad press over an open campus that is sensitive to protecting the rights of all and hard at work to be responsive to students who are exploited by members of the university community. By refusing to release the reports, the administration is taking the public it serves out of the equation.
Does #MeToo mean nothing to OU’s leaders? The numerous emails from administrators showing support for those who filed numerous sexual-assault criminal reports since the start of this academic year ring violently hollow in view of this recent action.
English philosopher John Milton was not a fan of censorship or suppression. In venting his frustration at the English Parliament’s Licensing Order of 1643, he wrote in his famous Aeropagitica: “And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
That was 331 years before FERPA.
The best way to protect the university and hold everyone accountable is to release the reports and let the complainant and respondent stand on their merits – or lack thereof.
Nerissa Young is a journalism professor at Ohio University.