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University seeking new ways to post grades
March 23, 1998

Students scanning lists of grades posted on office doors and classroom walls now have to identify their results by something other than their names or social security numbers.

"The University has the responsibility to properly secure students' personally identifiable information," said Jeff von Munkwitz-Smith, University registrar. In a memorandum to deans, academic department heads, and regional campus directors, von Munkwitz-Smith said that although many faculty post grades using numbers not names, this may be violating students' rights to privacy, as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 as Amended (FERPA, also known as the Buckley Amendment). Students' social security numbers are considered personally identifiable information, he said.

Von Munkwitz-Smith has issued general guidelines for posting grades that include using code words or randomly assigned numbers that only the instructor and individual student know. The order of posting should not be alphabetic. Von Munkwitz-Smith also said that students may obtain their grades by supplying the instructor with a postcard to mail the grade.

Some departments have developed a "student consent form" allowing the use of student identification numbers, but von Munkwitz-Smith does not support the use of such a form. "It has elements of coercion in it," he said. "It gives the wrong message that institutional convenience is more important than student rights."

Von Munkwitz-Smith said he would rather see more people adopt the practice that some faculty follow of asking students to give them a number to use in grade posting. "That doesn't involve more work than collecting and tracking student consent forms and avoids the problem of posting grades using personally identifiable information," he said.

Susan Spiggle, head of the marketing department, said she forwarded the registrar's memo to faculty members in her department and also removed all remaining posted grades from last semester. "This way we can avoid any potential infringement upon students' privacy." Spiggle said. "I encourage faculty not to post grades."

John Pyrzenski

John Pyrzenski is a student worker in the Office of University Communications