Questions on the validity of Student Body President Jordan Johnson's transparency waiver have been raised since its Sept. 1 debut.
Johnson introduced the waiver during a Student Senate meeting and said it would make Student Government records, including meeting minutes, recordings of meetings and Senate voting records, available to the public.
Johnson said the waiver offers senators the chance to give up their rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which requires schools to protect student educational records, such as grades, from disclosure.
He encouraged, but did not require, SG officials and senators to join him in signing the waiver.
Johnson said so far about 70 of the 94 senators have signed it.
In a guest column that appeared in the Sept. 8 edition of the Alligator, UF alumnus and former Keg Party President Frank Bracco criticized the waiver and said FERPA applies to student grades and academic records, not to the public records related to SG.
Bracco sued UF in August for failing to allow him to make copies of audio and video recordings of Student Senate meetings.
He said in his column that, since FERPA was enacted in 1974, nearly every record related to SG has been open to public viewing.
"This suddenly changed two weeks ago with this new transparency policy we're seeing at Student Government," he said.
However, according to an e-mail sent by UF spokesman Steve Orlando, SG records with information that identifies individual students are protected by FERPA and Florida law because they are maintained by UF.
With the waiver, students in SG give permission to disclose any information identifying them in the SG records, according to the statement.
Johnson said the waiver follows up with one of his campaign promises, and he hopes it will give students a chance to watch Senate meetings in their dorms.
He also said he hopes the waiver will increase student interest and involvement in SG.
"The real initiative behind this is to engage students," Johnson said. "This is all positive. There's no negative to what they're doing here."
Mark Fenster, a UF law professor, said he thinks the waiver is an unnecessary step because he does not believe Student Senate records are similar to the educational records FERPA was initially designed to protect.
"The everyday records of a student-run organization - one that is setting policy and spending student fee money - is a far cry from the grades and punishments meted out to individual students," he wrote in an e-mail.
In Senate, students act as executives or public officials, not students, Fenster said.
He said FERPA could apply to SG officials if an official committed an offense in his or her SG work but was given a student punishment, such as suspension.
"When those two things begin to merge, when something they did as an official of Student Government allows them to be punished as a student, then I think you're back into FERPA territory," Fenster said.
James Sullivan III, a Gainesville attorney representing Bracco in his suit, said the waiver is beneficial for UF.
He said the waiver protects the university should a dispute arise over the revelation of private student material during a public Senate meeting.
"It's really not designed to protect the senators or put them on notice," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the waiver also has the added advantage of helping senators realize they can expect less privacy than regular students.