The United States Supreme Court announced its intentions last week to review a case this coming spring that concerns student privacy. Gonzaga University graduate, Ru Paster, listed as John Doe for this case, accused his alma mater of defamation, invasion of privacy, breach of contract and negligence. Paster charged that the university included a frivolous accusation that had been made by Gonzaga faculty members of sexual misconduct with his transcript and passed that same information to the superintendent of Washington state schools. A jury ordered Gonzaga to pay $1 million for inhibiting Paster in his pursuit of a teaching job and the Washington Supreme Court upheld that decision.

Although the accusation of sexual assault itself is completely unfounded and has since been denied by both parties involved, the issue facing the Supreme Court is whether the release of the accusation was a violation of Paster”s privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which it was.

The Supreme Court should not allow an institution of higher learning, even a private institution, to disclose any information concerning its disciplinary measures. Such independent collegiate judicial systems are often unreliable and usually unnecessary. Like the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the University of Michigan”s disreputable non-academic disciplinary system (formerly known as the Student Code of Conduct), Gonzaga”s judicial policy relies heavily on hearsay evidence. Because disciplinary systems like those at the University and Gonzaga tolerate hearsay and allow various other violations of due process, these universities prosecute and sentence students while ignoring national legal standards of evidence and the burden of proof.

Despite the questionable practices of administering discipline at Gonzaga University, Paster”s status never surpassed that of the accused. Apparently, Gonzaga University considered a simple accusation enough of an indictment to warrant informing potential employers. But without prior knowledge regarding the extent of the allegation”s capriciousness, employers will likely give the information undue consideration. In reviewing Paster”s case, the Supreme Court must realize that allowing disciplinary records to pass beyond the University gives credence to the findings of irresponsible, private judicial systems that mock the practice and purpose of federal and state law.

University discipline systems ignore the fact that a system of law already exists in the United States. Many cases that are reviewed by collegiate punitive boards, including sexual assault, are concomitantly tried by much more responsible federal or state judicial systems. Students are thus placed in double jeopardy by their institutions, a practice that violates the very spirit of a national system of law. The use of hearsay evidence in decisions and the disregard for legal standards like reasonable doubt and innocence until proven guilty give their decisions little credibility. Regardless of the institution to which they may belong, students are entitled to a fair trial.

In Paster”s case, this means he has a right to be judged by potential employers on real credentials, not frivolous accusations. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is meant to protect students from such damaging, personal and unreliable information and should be upheld by the Supreme Court.

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