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A guide to FERPA for your daily life

Wesley Vaughn

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Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Was it me? Couldn’t be. Then who? Well, if the alleged crime took place at the University of Alabama, we will never know because of FERPA.

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It is a federal law that serves to protect student education records and to sweep any embarrassing incidents under the weak, legally interpreted rug for the University.

You can chide UA media relations all you want for its abuse and misuse of the law, but – what you may not know – FERPA can be used by students in common circumstances, as well. Don’t hate it until you’ve tried it.

In her video for “Last Friday Night,” Katy Perry becomes distressed when she finds photos of her Friday night frolicking on Facebook. For students, there is no need to fret with FERPA. Simply sending all visual evidence to student affairs will federally protect all party animals from public humiliation, scorn and social media lore.

FERPA even extends into family affairs. You may already know that you have some say in regards to the release of your education records to your parents. But, did you know that you can FERPA-wall your parents about your social life?

A typical conversation with your mom probably goes like this: “Hey, honey. I hope school is treating you well. What’s happening with that girl I keep hearing about?”

Stop! Don’t fall for this unwarranted freedom of information request. If you are taming your own Caribbean queen and need to thwart any follow-up questions or, God forbid, inquiries from your extended family, you can whip your FERPA card out.

For example: “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry I have to do this, but, because I consider any potential relationship information as an education record, I am required by law to protect any and all details. Thus, I cannot comment any further. See you at Thanksgiving!”

This same technique can be applied to many other situations for students. Your landlord wants to know where your rent money is? FERPA. Your professor asks you where you were during last week’s class? FERPA. Another student wants to know what time it is? FERPA. A Bryant-Denny security officer asks you to spread your legs? FERPA.

FERPA solves all public relations problems. The hassle of caring about reputations, ramifications and doing the “right thing” is taken care of. With this law, you can become a PR ninja. You can even use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card – right, RB Walker?

My favorite and recommended application of FERPA is with academic accolades. Yes, along with concealing embarrassing details, the law can protect your achievements from becoming one of the trite statistics thrown around by this University. Inspirational student stories would no longer appear on, much to the pleasure of every other student on campus who feels worthless after reading them. Recruiting stump speeches would lack substance. University brochures would only consist of photographs.

For far too long, Truman Scholars, USA Today Academic All-Americans and National Merit Finalists have not been given the same privacy rights as alleged misconduct violators. Good students are thrown to the Princeton Review wolves while potentially guilty students are thrown into witness protection. Preposterous, I say.

If the University would like to continue to shield itself behind FERPA for whatever it pleases, we as students can play that game just as well.


The identity of this columnist is protected by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. His column runs on Wednesdays.

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A guide to FERPA for your daily life