There may be some unintended consequences of a lawsuit filed by EPIC against the U.S. Department of Education. Historically, if a student asks faculty to write letters of recommendation, the request (often oral) has pretty much served as a release. Under this new policy, faculty would need signed releases indicating what data types or information would be included in the letter of recommendation, and students could limit or restrict what the faculty member includes.
Stefan Pyles reports:
A new Northwest policy grants students the power to limit what information teachers can share in letters of recommendation. However, this may have a negative impact.
In response to a suit brought against the U.S. Department of Education for recent changes to FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, Northwest now requires teachers to sign a release of information before they write letters of recommendation.
According to the Registrar’s Office, “the law says that no one outside the institution shall have access to your education records… without your written consent.”
Students can stipulate whether a teacher can include information regarding GPA, attendance, and discipline, financial aid and housing records, etc.
The 2011 amendments [to FERPA] broadened the latitude of those exceptions to include some non-academic purposes. EPIC claimed in court that the regulations opened the door for third parties to gain access to student records without consent from students and parents.
Northwest’s adoption of the release of information form acknowledges the potential legal consequences of sharing information students do not authorize. It also indemnifies faculty, staff and the school at large.
Read more on Northwest Missourian.
Is a letter of recommendation even an education record under FERPA? It doesn’t necessarily go into the school’s file and may just reside in the faculty member’s files.
Overall, I don’t think Northwest’s new policy is necessary nor helpful, but that’s just this former faculty member’s .02.