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  1. #1
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    Default Is a University Liable for Publications of a Student Newspaper

    My question involves education law in the State of: Tennessee, but this is a federal issue.

    For example, say a student newspaper (funded half by student funds, half by advertising) received in the mail what was allegedly an athlete's transcripts. The transcripts show he is, in fact, ineligible for the NCAA and should not be playing due to his .8 GPA, but no mention of this has been made before. If the newspaper were to publish a story revealing this information, would those involved or the university be held liable in court if the athlete chooses to sue for invasion of privacy or libel?

    Additionally, would the student paper's actions result in loss of federal funding for the university for violating the Buckley Amendment (FERPA)? Is the university even to blame?

    While I'm at it, it being a student newspaper, does the university have any right to prior restraint? I would assume the same laws apply, but university's have a lot of their own little rules.

    Any cases you may know of that have involved a similar situation would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Is a University Liable for Publications of a Student Newspaper

    Quote Quoting summerlynn
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    For example, say a student newspaper (funded half by student funds, half by advertising) received in the mail what was allegedly an athlete's transcripts.
    Here's the FIRST of many potential hazzards for a lawsuit. Transcripts don't just fall in the mail and magically arrive at the student newspaper. Imagine this scenario:

    - transcripts magically appear out of a cereal box
    - newspaper reprints them
    - student sues the crap out of everyone in sight for printing false information (and it won't matter that any particular party isn't liable, they can STILL be sued and get the joy and hassle of defending the claim)
    - now everyone in sight gets to prove that the information is in fact TRUE, least they loose a libel suit
    - in proving the fact true, some or all conspirators get to tell the story of how the transcripts were obtained - which may lead to additional problems, or even criminal charges

    Long story short, students are idiots to print transcripts, which are NOT public record, without a release from the student (and good luck with that).

    Yes, loss of funding could be one consequence, among others.

    If NCAA is allowing the subject to play, your issue is with the NCAA and THEIR adherence or lack thereof to academic policies. In order to remain eligible, players are required to give blanket consent for academic monitoring. If you think NCAA is falling down on the job, then the place to address it is in the ranks of NCAA - who may not be checking GPA as frequently or carefully as they are supposed to. But exposing an individual student by printing their transcripts has a LOT of downside, and in and of itself may accomplish nothing.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Is a University Liable for Publications of a Student Newspaper

    It is not an issue of the NCAA still allowing the athlete to play, but would be at the fault of the coach for not benching him in the first place. This results in suspension from the NCAA of the team, forfeiting any tournaments in that year and the school would more than likely decide to fire the coach for failing to do his job.

    I appreciate your advice on the matter, but I all ready know of the possible repercussions for this scenario actually playing out. My question is, ultimately, is the university responsible for what a student newspaper publishes legally? If this happened in the real world, it would be the paper itself responsible, whether the editor for allowing publication or the journalist for writing it in the first place.

    FERPA maintains that the university may lose funding if they release student records, but can the university really be held at fault when they have no power over what student newspaper publishes due to laws of prior restraint?

    I'd also like to be clear that I do not intend on doing such a foolish thing. I am just trying to figure out how I would deal with it if I were responsible for PR of that university.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Is a University Liable for Publications of a Student Newspaper

    We don't know how the paper is structured or the extent of university oversight. You may be able to get some information from the university's legal office.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Is a University Liable for Publications of a Student Newspaper

    Thanks anyways, guys. If it interests you, I have found the answer to be that, no, typically a school is not held liable for the actions of its student paper. This is because FERPA specifies that no school or school employee is allowed to release education records without the student's consent. Courts have repeatedly ruled in a number of cases that student media is not covered by that definition as they are not employed by the school. Therefore, the school would not be accountable for publication of student information by its student media. (see Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, Frasca v. Andrews, or Yeo v. Lexington just to name a few.)

    Though, these cases did not deal specifically with student transcripts that may only be obtained by a university official and the simple fact of several local medias finding it in their mail indicates such a person must have, ultimately, 'released them to a third party.' There may be no one to point a finger at, but, despite that, the court could still rule that the university, in some form, did release those documents and violate FERPA. That is assuming the transcripts are legitimate.

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