Yale Law School’s Secret Decisions

Apply to Yale Law School and want access to your student records? Is there a mistake in them you need to correct? Well, too bad; the school can’t help you anymore.

According to an article in the New Republic:

That was the takeaway from Yale Law School Dean Robert Post’s annual “State of the School” address last Tuesday. In frank terms, he explained that students who requested access to their educational records under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) would no longer be receiving the fat file they expected. To avoid being forced to hand over a wide range of documents in response to a flood of recent student requests, the school had decided to destroy its student admissions evaluation records along with any notations made by the career development office in individual student files.

FERPA was designed to fulfill at least two major objectives: to allow students to access and correct inaccuracies in their own records, and to prohibit schools from publicly disclosing students’ identifying information.

Yale will have none of that.

The article points out that the school is understandably reluctant (and not entirely able) to handle very many requests for student records. Earlier this year one law student sent an email to fellow students explaining step-by-step how to request records. But it didn’t matter, because the school was ahead of them:

The advice came too late. Without advance warning to the student body, all of the admissions evaluation data in students’ files was deleted on February 22, 2015; additional information maintained by the career development office was deleted on March 3.

This allowed the institution to avoid having to handle widespread requests and also, probably more importantly, prevents anyone from knowing if any violations occurred in the process.

Oddly, despite all this lawyering, and efforts by arguably some of the most accomplished law students in the country, this is legal.

While FERPA was designed to give students access to their information, it was written so vaguely that it allows schools to do the exact opposite legally.

That’s because the law says nothing about notice requirements (schools don’t have to indicate when or if they’re changing their polices on student documents), fees (school can charge as much or as little as they want for access to records), and actual rules about record retention (students have access to their records, but the law says nothing about how long schools have to keep the records around).

Oddly, the man responsible for drafting and promoting FERPA, in order to give students and their families access to and control over their own records, was James L. Buckley, U.S. Senator from New York from 1971 to 1977.

Buckley graduated from Yale Law in 1949.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer