Protect your privacy from administrators

David Roepke

In Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s office is a bill, already passed through both houses of the Iowa Legislature and waiting for his signature, which would allow the state’s universities to notify a student’s parents if he or she violated rules concerning alcohol and controlled substances.

Supposedly, the purpose of the bill would be to give administrations “another tool to fight binge drinking,” according to Rep. Rosemary Thomson, R-Marion. I have a hard time understanding how this would act as a “tool” to fight dangerous drinking habits.

Has there been any research into whether students are more likely to control their drinking habits if they think their parents might be getting a call about them?

The most obvious reason to laugh out loud about this bill is that it is a blind sociological stab in the dark. Most college students have moved out from under the controlling thumbs of their parents and actually think of themselves as real people. There are relatively few college students who are still scared that their parents might find out they had a 12-pack of Keystone Light in their dorm fridge.

As for more serious offenses such as a drug conviction or a string of alcohol busts long enough to get one booted from the residence hall system, these are things parents are already being told 99 percent of the time. It would be difficult to hide the fact you got caught stoned at Towers unless you are completely independent of your parents, and in that case, your parents shouldn’t be notified anyway.

It is much more likely that this power to meddle in students’ personal lives would be used to intimidate and frighten students who, for whatever reason, have gotten themselves on the bad side of someone with enough clout to have a bad side.

In a Daily article March 24, Gary Steinke, Iowa State’s top lobby man in Des Moines, said the decision to notify a student’s parents would be made on a case-by-case basis. President Jischke said words to the same effect during a speech last week.

How is this decision going to be made? How are university officials supposed to effectively evaluate the relationship between a student (who to them is a number and a bank deposit) and that student’s parents? Giving administration the right to pick and choose which students’ parents will get calls and which ones won’t will inevitably end up becoming discriminatory and repressive.

But there is even stronger reason to question the validity of this bill when you take into consideration what exactly will be released to our parents.

Legislators want our parents to be informed of our student disciplinary records, files that university officials have said before are considered private educational records.

In a March 30 article in the Daily, Paul Tanaka, director of University Legal Services, said, “We comply with the policy of FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and do not disclose disciplinary records.”

The FERPA bill to which Tanaka refers states that a school can lose federal funding if it has a “policy or practice of permitting the release of [students’] educational records … without the written consent” of the student in question.

FERPA has often been the basis of the bureaucratic red-tape brigade that administrators roll out when journalists ask to take a look at campus crime records, denying students the opportunity to find out how much violent crime happens on their campus.

In the case of the parental notification bill, university officials have conveniently forgotten about that ol’ standby FERPA, taking a completely different stance on how private a student’s disciplinary record should be.

Why the dichotomy? It’s all about image and money, the two monkeys on every administrative back.

In the case of parental notification, it is in the university’s best financial interests to support the bill. It creates the appearance that Iowa State cares about its students and will go to whatever lengths necessary to keep us from drinking ourselves silly. That boosts our public image among parents throughout the state and, subsequently, increases tuition revenue and gifts.

In the case of opening crime records to the media, it is in the university’s best financial interests to do whatever necessary to hide the records. If students and parents knew the truth about how many criminal offenses are simply swept under the FERPA rug, they would not be so keen on sending little Jimmy and Joan off to Jischke-ville.

So don’t let anyone fool you into thinking the parental notification bill has anything to do with fighting alcohol abuse, when it all boils down to a simple matter of greenbacks.

David Roepke is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Aurora. He is a news editor at the Daily. Don’t stand for this B.S. Call Vilsack’s office at (515) 281-5211 and let him know how you feel.