UCLA Violation of Student’s Privacy to Investigate

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By AJC, Special for  USDR

AJC is calling on the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to “conduct a thorough investigation” of UCLA’s conduct regarding Milan Chatterjee, a law student and former president of the school’s Graduate Student Association.

UCLA actions constitute “a blatant violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” AJC General CounselMarc D. Stern wrote in a letter to the director of the DOE Family Policy Compliance Office. The DOE enforces FERPA which, among other things, prohibits schools receiving federal funds from releasing students’ educational, including disciplinary, records.

The controversy stems from a complaint against Chatterjee by certain groups over his handling of a student event. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) sought his removal as GSA President after he allegedly told a campus group that funding for a diversity event was contingent on a “zero engagement/endorsement policy toward Divest from Israel” or any related BDS movement organization.

The university, responding to further complaints by certain student groups, carried out an internal examination and produced a report on the matter. Inexplicably, that report, clearly marked “confidential,” was shared with the complaining organizations, notwithstanding the fact that the report constituted an educational record protected by FERPA. It soon became public, in the campus newspaper, and a senior university official blogged about it on the UCLA website. Although Chatterjee’s name was blocked out in the released report he was identifiable by histitle.

“The identity of the student is now known by reason of the University’s actions,” Stern wrote.

AJC, an advocacy organization with offices across the U.S., including Los Angeles, regularly advises college students about their rights in combating anti-Israel activity. Chatterjee received regular counsel from the AJC Los Angeles Regional Office, and he was honored at the AJC Global Forum in June with the organization’s Campus Courage Award.

As Stern pointed out in the letter to the DOE, AJC “cannot do its work if those students worry that their reputation will be harmed by deliberate violations of FERPA by college officials, especially officials who may not be in sympathy with their political positions.”

In light of UCLA’s handling of this incident and its failure to observe Chatterjee’s FERPA rights, he concluded that his continued presence on the UCLA campus would have been untenable. He is completing his law studies elsewhere.

“Much of that poisoned atmosphere is due to the University’s violation of FERPA,” concluded Stern. He called on the Department of Education to “conduct a thorough investigation of the University’s actions, and take appropriate remedial actions.”

SOURCE American Jewish Committee

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