Academic File Review
This policy addresses graduate student academic files1 that are maintained by both the Graduate School and the academic departments. These personally identifiable education records must be handled in a secure, confidential, and consistent manner, one that is governed largely by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
FERPA is a federal statute2 that protects the privacy of personally identifiable student records and controls circumstances under which such records may be disclosed. It also provides students with a right to review their education records.3
While the disclosure of information outside the University regarding current and former students that was collected during enrollment is generally prohibited, FERPA does allow for the public disclosure of certain "directory information," provided that the given student has not expressly objected to such a disclosure.4 The University considers the following to be information that may be shared with the general public:
- Telephone number
- E-mail address
- Dates of attendance
- Major field of study
- Degrees and awards
- Academic institution attended immediately prior to Princeton University
- Participation in officially recognized activities, organizations, and athletic teams
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams
There are additional data elements that, while identified by FERPA as being available for public disclosure, the University has decided to keep confidential or internal. It is University policy that student address information is not to be disclosed to third parties in the absence of a compelling reason. The following elements must be treated as CONFIDENTIAL, consistent with the University's Information Security Policy:
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
Under certain conditions, it is permissible to disclose personally identifiable information, beyond the items mentioned above as "directory information." By way of example, information concerning financial aid and other financial matters, evidence of academic or nonacademic disciplinary matters, details of academic progress, grades, etc. - normally treated as confidential - may be revealed to certain third parties identified in the statute (e.g. government officials), or when those third parties present a formal release signed by the student. When such a release is presented, a copy of it should be placed in the student's file to indicate that the disclosure of information was properly authorized.
Additionally, an education record may be released to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency if the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or other individuals. In all cases, the basis for disclosure and the parties to whom the information was disclosed must be recorded in the file.
By law, the University is required to make student education records available to the student (or properly authorized representative) for inspection within forty-five days of the request. Normally, this review is conducted in person in either the Graduate School or the academic department office. Students must submit a request in writing to see their file. Prior to a student's arrival, a Graduate School staff member reviews the file to make sure that confidential material has been removed from the file (e.g., letters of recommendation to which the student has waived right of inspection). Departments are encouraged to follow similar procedures.
In reviewing their education records, students are permitted to take notes; request copies of documents (though normally not the entire file); and place an explanatory note, letter, or memo into the file. Students may not remove anything from the records.
Staff members of academic departments should familiarize themselves with the University's Information and Security policy, as well as the University's FERPA statement, published annually in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities under the heading "Student Privacy Rights Under Federal Law." Questions about FERPA should be directed to the Office of the General Counsel.