In recent weeks
there has been a growing concern among some students and faculty members about
I am writing to
clarify the University's position on these issues. Before noting how we are
protecting our students and the limited conditions under which we will release
information about them, it is important that I make it clear that Columbia is a
truly international university: About one-quarter of our full-time faculty
members were born in nations other than the United States; and 18 percent of
our students come from other nations. We take great pride in these facts and we
have every intention of maintaining this diversity and extending it. No part of
the world is excluded from
In times of great concern for national security, there may be some who would sacrifice individual rights. We are not among those who would, unless compelled to do so by Congress or our courts. We want to continue to help the nation during this difficult time -- and we will. But we will not do so by sacrificing the individual rights of our faculty and students.
In this context,
then, I am setting forth a brief summary of the laws and policies that govern
First, if a student requests that their educational records be released to a third party, or the student specifically consents to the release, the University will comply. Sometimes students make such a request or consent in connection with an application to another university or an application for employment, and the University's Registrar's Office releases educational records in those instances. Occasionally, also in connection with a student's application for employment, an FBI agent or other official may contact people at the University as part of a "background check" about a student. If you are contacted as part of a "background check" about another person, you do not need to cooperate. However, cooperation may very well assist the person in securing employment. In any event, before you cooperate, you should ask to see a document setting forth the person's written consent to the release of their educational records.
University releases "directory information" about a student without
the student's consent, unless the student has completed a request to withhold
directory information. Directory information at Columbia includes each
student's name, address, telephone listing and certain other categories of
information that are specified in the University's FERPA policy published in FACETS.
Students’ names, addresses and telephone listings are available freely through
the University's web "directory." If you are a student attending
Third, FERPA and the University's policies provide that the University may release information in compliance with a judicial order or pursuant to a lawful subpoena. As a general policy, the University will notify the student at the address on file in the Registrar's Office that the University has received a judicial order or subpoena. However, some judicial orders and subpoenas issued for law enforcement purposes specify that the University cannot disclose to any person the existence or contents of the order or subpoena or the information furnished in compliance with it.
Fourth, FERPA and the University's policies also provide that, under limited circumstances, in connection with an emergency, the University may disclose educational records "if the knowledge of such information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons." This FERPA exception is not a substitute for a judicial order or lawful subpoena in an investigation.
Many of you
have read about the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing
Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" Act of
2001 ("USA PATRIOT" Act) which was adopted to respond to terrorism.
Although the USA PATRIOT Act amends FERPA in connection with investigations and
prosecutions of terrorism, the basic principles set forth above have not
changed. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the United States Attorney General or his
designee may apply to a court for an order requiring an educational institution
Many of you have also read about proposed legislation that would prohibit or create a moratorium on student visas for international students. The University is monitoring such legislation proposals closely and has been actively involved, on its own and together with other universities, to prevent passage of such legislation.
Finally, in these times it is normal for some people to feel anxiety or fear when confronted with requests for information about themselves or others. I want to provide you with some information about how you can find out more about your rights if a law enforcement or an immigration official wishes to speak with you. Although the University cannot give legal advice about what to do in such an event, to assist students and others at the University, we are (1) attaching a publication issued by the American Civil Liberties Union entitled What to Do If You're Stopped By the Police, The FBI, The INS, Or the Customs Service, and (2) setting forth below an up-dated contact list of organizations that can provide legal advice and assistance if the need arises:
I hope that this letter has helped to clarify the University’s position and has given you some information that might prove useful to you.
Provost and Dean of Faculties