Unlike some universities across the nation, Georgetown University has received neither a request nor legal order from the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other federal agency to release student records in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, according to university officials.

In a survey conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 220 universities, colleges and junior colleges out of 1,188 reported requests for information by one or more federal agencies, primarily the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

According to University Registrar John Q. Pierce, no federal agency has thus far requested any student record from Georgetown. However, Pierce said the university would “cooperate on any issue with state, local and federal authorities” if requested.

Pierce also said the university would “be respectful of the confidentiality needs of the students.”

According to the university undergraduate bulletin, the university’s response to government requests for student information is regulated by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which safeguards the privacy of students. According to this law, a university cannot give access to a student’s records to another group or person without the student’s written consent. In the case of government investigations and other legal proceedings, student records will be released “to persons in compliance with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena (provided that the university will first make a reasonable attempt to notify the student),” according the bulletin.

According to the Department of Education, records can also be released without student consent in “cases of health and safety emergencies” under FERPA.

Pierce echoed this policy, adding that the Registrar and other appropriate university offices plan to work with the Office of the University Counsel if subpoenas are ordered for the records of certain students. The university counsel would assure that the court order is proper and legal before any information is released to authorities.

However, the majority of requests for information from universities nationwide have not been accompanied by subpoenas. Only 22 out of the over 200 universities surveyed reported receiving court orders for any of the records requested.

So far, federal, state and local authorities have requested information on specific, particular individuals from a majority of the universities reporting requests. Another 67 universities reported receiving requests for the records for some or all of their students with F1-J1 student visas. Another 34 received inquiries about students in particular programs within in the university, while 16 said authorities asked them for student records based on ethnicity.

The release of student information, particularly of those who hold international visas, follows the discovery that several of the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks illegally entered the United States with student visas.

Among these 220 universities reporting inquiries, the majority have already released all records requested by authorities. Some universities have resisted disclosure of information. Tufts University officials only reluctantly handed over data about foreign students, who constitute approximately 12 percent of the student body, following a decision from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.

Releasing data to authorities is one concern, but universities must also decide whether to disclose to students whether or not information has been released. In the survey, 176 universities have not told students that authorities have been given access to their records, while 27 universities have received specific written or verbal requests to withhold that information from affected individuals.

At Georgetown, Pierce said it is university policy to inform students if it allows authorities to inspect their records. However, Pierce added that “under certain circumstances, if the judge so orders, students are not notified.”

According to the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers survey, written subpoenas have been issued in the past month restricting several universities from informing affected students of disclosure.

On Georgetown’s campus, students expressed mixed reaction to the possibility of the disclosure of their records.

“College students are one of the largest voices for toleration in our country, and if the government alienates them, they lose a lot of their base support,” GUSA representative Somil Trivedi (COL ’04) said.

Trivedi said he doubted the amount of relevant information the government could gain through student records. “I think it’s obvious students aren’t behind this,” he said.

Others said they thought releasing records would be appropriate if it could prevent future terrorist activity.

“I wouldn’t mind – I would hope that it would prevent something like this from happening again,” Tara Conroy (COL ’05) said.

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