By Donald W. Meyers | March 26th, 2013
Oklahoma State University made history by becoming the first university to win SPJ’s not-so-coveted Black Hole Award.
The Cowboys were nominated by Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, for several offenses against open government, such as classifying parking tickets as information protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and identifying a sexual assault as a burglary on a Clery Act report.
But what put Oklahoma State over the top (or into the gutter, depending on your perspective), was its decision to hide behind FERPA to protect the “privacy” of a suspected serial sexual predator. OSU had four verified complaints from students at a fraternity that they were sexually assaulted by another student, yet the university did not notify police or alert students to the potential predator in their midst.
Instead, OSU handled the matter through a closed-door administrative hearing. University officials defended the action on the grounds that FERPA barred them from revealing the suspect’s name, even to the police.
FERPA was meant to protect academic records — college applications, test scores and transcripts — from prying eyes. It was not meant to be a “Harry Potter”-like cloak that hides any scrap of paper that contains a student’s name.
Oklahoma State now joins a rouge’s gallery that includes the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Human Services, and the Georgia, Wisconsin and Utah legislatures. The Utah Legislature had the distinction of winning the first national Black Hole award for railroading through the infamous HB477 in 2011, which would have gutted the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act.
That bill was repealed amid public fury, a petition drive to put legislation repealing the bill on the next ballot, front-page editorials in the state’s largest newspaper denouncing the bill and the national publicity generated by the Black Hole award.