Edward Waters College, a tiny, historically black private school in Jacksonville, Florida, recently introduced an incredibly strict confidentiality requirement on all staff. According to an article in the Jacksonville News:
The Edward Waters agreement, revised this month, is mandatory and classifies all on-campus material as confidential data. That includes employee records, policy documents and even in-class material unless otherwise approved for release.
Faculty, staff and administrators are all included, and any violations can be met with a daily $5,000 fine and additional legal action.
This agreement is highly unusual. Academic confidentially agreements generally cover only ongoing research or donor information. The Edward Waters agreement appears to cover virtually everything that happens on campus.
The decision comes about a week and a half after Edward Waters admitted it had laid off several professors and was increasingly relying on part-time faculty. The school now has only 29 faculty members and 28 adjuncts. Former employees are also covered under the new confidentiality requirements.
The college’s lawyer, Michael Freed, said that the new rule isn’t a barrier for whistleblowers. He explained that anything criminal wouldn’t fall under confidentially requirement. This explanation offers somewhat limited reassurance to concerned parties; effective whistleblowing often involves the revelation of unethical information, not just illegal activity.
In 2004, for instance, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools voted to remove the college’s accreditation after the Florida Times-Union revealed that Edward Waters had plagiarized large portions of its Quality Enhancement Plan from Alabama A&M University. Plagiarism of an internal planning document is not a criminal offense.