“It’s like pushing a wet noodle,” said Drake member Frank Splitt, a retired electrical engineering professor, who has pressed lawmakers and published numerous articles on the need for college sports reform. “Nobody’s responding in Congress.”
North Carolina’s academic fraud problem was not unique. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is monitoring the case, has waded into others, including:
– Florida State University in 2006 and 2007, cases of cheating on tests and papers involving football, men’s basketball and other sports.
– Georgia Southern University in 2010, academic fraud involving a former coach and two players on the men’s basketball team.
– University of Southern Mississippi in 2013, two former tennis coaches were cited for offering impermissible benefits, including $5,000 – and in the case of one student, a car – as well as academic misconduct, including paying one student-athlete to write papers for another.
Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky refused a request by the school newspaper’s editor for correspondence between the university and its athletics staff, and between the university and the NCAA about the athletic status of freshman basketball player Nerlens Noel. The NCAA later ruled that Noel was eligible.
The state attorney general’s office asked for the same information but was turned down, as well. Nonetheless, the office ruled in December that the university was right to deny the newspaper the material.
“The overuse of FERPA, in ways that the sponsors never intended, to conceal information that’s just inconvenient or embarrassing, is really an epidemic,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a journalism advocacy group that is not allowed to lobby.
LoMonte said Congress should overhaul the privacy law and make clear that only “core academic and disciplinary records” are protected. And with the penalty for violating FERPA – withdrawal of federal funds – so extreme, schools overreact for fear of being put out of business, he said.
Higher education lawyers say the law doesn’t need to be fixed.
“Only rarely does it restrict us from communicating about our students when we need to do so, and hardly ever does it compel communication about our students,” Steven McDonald, general counsel at the Rhode Island School of Design, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It gives us considerable discretion to do what we, in our own best judgment, think should be done.”
Alexandra Sollberger, a spokeswoman for the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said that it would continue to monitor the application of FERPA but that the issue was not on its immediate agenda.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a former state attorney general, said that “a new look may be worth doing” because he hears from school administrators, parents and others that they’re troubled about the law.
Asked last fall about the North Carolina scandal, Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat and a former Duke University professor whose district includes UNC, said, "I think this situation has reached the point where we need to ask ourselves, is there a federal legislative approach that could be helpful?"