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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Over the past couple of days we have heard several Student Government officials praise the new "transparency policy" being created through Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act waivers. This new policy should not be lauded as progress towards creating an open government, but rather as a cheap ploy by higher-ups at the university.

FERPA is a federal law that allows students to view their educational record and have some discretion as to how and to whom their personal and academic information is disclosed. The law is designed to prevent professors from posting grades in public places and universities from releasing our academic record to third parties without our consent. FERPA is not meant to hamstring the student body's right to know what is happening with Activity and Service Fees or to put a veil over what the Student Body president is doing in his publicly elected position.

From 1974 - the year FERPA was enacted by Congress - to last week, nearly every record relating to SG had been open for public inspection. These records remain open for inspection at other SG associations in Florida. For nearly 35 years, transparency and the public's ability to inspect the records of SG was the status quo. This past week, it suddenly became non-existent.

With the creation of this new transparency waiver, the university is claiming SG budgets, allocation requests, Supreme Court decisions, Student Senate minutes and a host of other records are suddenly protected from public inspection by FERPA. Last week - and for the preceding 35 years - many of the documents described in the waiver were available to the public and did not fall under the purview of FERPA.

Did the meaning of a FERPA-protected document change in the last week? No. Either the university, and every other state university in Florida, has been violating FERPA for the past 35 years, or this waiver was created for some other dubious reason. If the university has been releasing FERPA-protected documents for 35 years, why hasn't the Department of Education cut off federal funding to UF and every other Florida university, as prescribed by FERPA? Why hasn't any secretary of education in the past 35 years issued a cease-and-desist order to the entire State University System? And why hasn't there been a single complaint filed against any Florida university for releasing SG documents?

Students at UF are losing their ability to know what is going on in SG and where their $14 million in Activity and Service Fees are going. It is time to face the facts; The university is attempting to relieve itself of its responsibility to allow the public to know what is happening with our tax dollars and student tuition. What we are dealing with here is a total lack of respect for the law, and a total lack of respect for the students of this great university.

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