What is FERPA?
Even after her resignation from UNC this past month, the sea of criticism that has come crashing down on Mary Willingham still has little potential to ebb.
As a former academic advisor and learning specialist, her research in literacy among UNC student athletes started last year. Her 2013 application for research to the Office of Human Research Ethics was released by the University Thursday after a public records request was filed by The Daily Tar Heel and WCHL.
In her study, Willingham received the names and private information of her study subjects, although she failed to include her intent to do so in her application. Students’ identifiable information is protected by UNC under federal policy in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA.
Assistant Provost and University Registrar Chris Derickson is in charge of investigating FERPA violations at UNC, although he admits there have been few claims of violation in his four years as Registrar.
“FERPA ensures students rights to their academic record and it also lays out the responsibility of an institution for protecting that information as fully as they can,” Derickson said. “Institutions are responsible for enforcing FERPA on their campus.”
FERPA also provides federal funding to universities to be used and given to students through loans and grants. This funding is refuted from universities who repeatedly infringe upon their responsibilities by FERPA policy.
“This institution takes a lot of pride in being able to meet the full need of students,” Derickson said. “So that would be a significant loss – as for any institution – to lose its federal funding.”
With Willingham’s accusations reaching national attention, the University must still remain aware of potential violation claims to come from the variations between her application and study.
“In a lot of ways, people want to focus on the problems but I think on our campus we’ve done a lot to emphasize how important (FERPA) is,” Derickson said.