The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's persistent, hard-nosed reporting has prompted the University of Central Arkansas to seek a formal opinion from federal Education officials about whether release of discretionary tuition waivers and other scholarship awards violates federal privacy law pertaining to student records. The D-G has quoted a variety of experts who dispute Interim President Tom Courtway's belief that the law does not allow him to release these names.
(For the record: the Arkansas Times also made an FOI requests for this list of names weeks ago and was similarly rebuffed.)
Democrat-Gazette reporting has already turned up tuition wavers for children of several UCA trustees of varying amounts. Reliable sources tell me there are some biggies, including huge favors to very wealthy prominent UCA players, yet to be uncovered.
UCA NEWS RELEASE
CONWAY, ARK. -- The University of Central Arkansas today requested that the U.S. Department of Education's Family Policy Office provide UCA with a written opinion concerning the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The request for the opinion comes as a result of a request by The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, made under the provisions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, for the names of students who were granted waivers of certain tuition, fees and/or room and board through a discretionary scholarship program directed from the president's office.
"When the request was received from the Democrat-Gazette, we reviewed it and determined that releasing the names of the students could violate the provisions of federal law dealing with the privacy of students’ information" said Tom Courtway, UCA's interim president. "Several of us reviewed the matter and came to the same conclusion. We can find no case law, nor are we aware of any federal regulation which provides a definitive answer to the request of the newspaper. Given the sanctions for violation of those privacy provisions, including the possible loss of federal funds, colleges and universities must be very protective of student information. We always err on the side of non-disclosure.
"Over the course of the last few weeks we have discussed this request and the provisions of federal law with the staff of the Arkansas Attorney General. Based upon these discussions and given the FOIA request of the Democrat-Gazette, UCA Board Chairman Rush Harding and I believe the best course is to seek an official opinion from the federal agency responsible for interpreting this privacy act. That is what is being requested today. I believe the opinion request fairly presents the matter to be addressed and asks the appropriate questions to the agency."