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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Otterbein to stop violating federal law

Administration required students in sexual assault cases to sign nondisclosure forms

Otterbein University has been violating federal law by requiring students to keep alleged sexual assaults secret.

Student Affairs staff has been requiring parties of sexual assault cases, including alleged victims, to sign a form preventing them from discussing the incident. It included the following: “Privacy must be maintained and the matter should not be discussed.”

An investigation into the practice by the Tan & Cardinal showed that nondisclosure agreements in alleged campus sexual assault cases violate federal law.

When questioned about the nondisclosure forms, university officials gave conflicting answers.

Robert Gatti, vice president and dean of Student Affairs, told the Tan & Cardinal on May 2, “We don’t have the students sign anything.” Later in the same interview, Gatti said, “We don’t have the students sign any form that says they can’t talk about what goes on in a disciplinary proceeding.”

But, Julie Saker, director of Student Conduct and Wellness wrote in a May 2 email, “The students sign a form that includes statements about maintaining privacy by both the students involved and by the investigator.”

Saker provided the form that students were required to sign.

On May 6, the Tan & Cardinal provided the form to Gatti and he responded in an email, “I was wrong and didn’t realize we were doing this. We will discontinue the practice of having students sign a form that declares privacy.”

The federal law known as the Clery Act, states that universities cannot require nondisclosure clauses.

Requiring students to sign a nondisclosure agreement is a direct violation of the Clery Act, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education’s position on the matter is “an institution would be in violation of the Clery Act if a student was required to sign the nondisclosure agreement as a condition of receiving information to which he/she is unconditionally entitled to receive.”

In a 2004 case involving Georgetown University, the U.S. Department of Education ruled that universities and colleges must discontinue nondisclosure agreements in judicial proceedings involving sex crimes.

Gatti said that the nondisclosure clause was originally in Otterbein’s form because the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, prevents universities and colleges from releasing individual educational records.

However, FERPA only limits what the university can release regarding educational records.

Kent State professor and Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism Mark Goodman said that FERPA does not require students to sign nondisclosure policies. “FERPA is a limitation on solely what the university can release, not individual students,” he said.

Otterbein has also taken a stance against releasing public information except the minimum required by the Clery Act.

The practice by universities to require students to sign nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault has been challenged by students on other campuses.

Students at Swarthmore University filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the university for requiring victims to sign nondisclosure agreements.

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