8/21/2015: Diane Dietz of the RG has more, here:
UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd, who pushed to make the UO counseling center records private, said she was “very, very pleased” with the Education Department’s guidance.
“They’ve gone a long way to clarifying the situation,” Freyd said Thursday. “The only way people are going to be able to get help for psychological suffering is if they feel that their information is going to be private. That’s at the heart of therapy.”
UO spokesman Tobin Klinger issued a statement saying: “The guidance itself is quite helpful and serves to clarify best practices in highly sensitive and complicated situations, because obviously basic common sense and decency have no effect on the UO’s General Counsel’s office.”
OK, I totally made up the last part of that Klinger quote, but it’s what everyone is thinking, and the RG editorial board is not afraid to say it:
The University of Oregon shouldn’t need a six-page letter from the U.S. Department of Education to tell it to respect the privacy of students’ medical and counseling records. But the department’s letter clarifies what ought to be a matter of common sense: Universities provide health services to promote their students’ physical and mental well-being, but students will avoid those services if they have reason to believe their medical records might somehow be used against them. …
8/20/2015: Rich Read has the latest trust-destroying quote from UO’s chief strategic communicator Tobin Klinger, in the Oregonian here:
A federal official advised universities this week to not share a student’s medical records without written consent, contradicting the University of Oregon’s release of an alleged gang-rape victim’s therapy records to the school’s lawyers.
The six-page draft letter from Kathleen Styles, the U.S. Education Department’s chief privacy officer, was issued this week after repeated inquiries by The Oregonian/Oregonlive and members of Oregon’s congressional delegation.
In effect, the letter steamrolls a UO Counseling Center confidentiality policy weakened in March by center director Shelly Kerr, clinical director Joseph DeWitz and university lawyer Samantha Hill. The Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners is investigating four UO psychologists, including the two center managers, after Kerr secretly gave the woman’s records to university attorneys in December without seeking her permission or notifying her therapist, Jennifer Morlok.
… But Tobin Klinger, UO senior director of public affairs communications, said the letter reinforced the UO’s policies.
“It is also completely consistent with how the university has always operated,” Klinger said Thursday in an emailed statement.
Asked whether Styles’ letter contradicted UO Counseling Center’s confidentiality policy, and whether the letter might support Morlok’s Bar and Psychology Board complaints, Klinger said: “If those reviewing the approach taken by the university choose to apply the guidance, it will undoubtedly help to validate the actions that were taken.”
The letter of guidance interprets federal laws and regulations in a way that appears to give new impetus to an appeal filed recently by Morlok with the Oregon State Bar. The lawyers’ professional organization dismissed complaints she lodged against UO attorneys Hill and Douglas Park.
Meanwhile Klinger’s new boss Kyle Henley is on his way from Colorado, but UO is still sitting on his job search materials. From what I can tell there was no public job announcement. For the VP for Communications? Not exactly the way to rebuild trust:
Dear Ms Thornton:
This is a public records request for the following documents relevant to the recent hire of a new VP for Communications
1) Job announcement
2) resumes and cover letters for finalists
3) Search committee members
I ask for a fee waiver on the basis of public interest. I’m ccing Greg Stripp as he should have these document easily at hand.
8/19/2015: US Dept of Ed moves to close Doug Park’s counseling confidentiality loophole
Some good consequences from the March 2014 basketball rape allegations, and more evidence for why the truth about UO’s extraordinary efforts to hide these allegations from the public and its bungled efforts to deal with them needs to be revealed before UO can put this behind us.
Credit for this proposed change in FERPA should go to UO Professors Jennifer Freyd and Carol Stabile and a gang of other UO faculty, students, OA’s, and staff who used the newspapers, a change.org petition, and a UO Senate resolution to publicize how the UO General Counsel’s office and VP for Student Affairs Robin Holmes had seized Jane Doe’s confidential records from her counselor at the UO Counseling center. Oregonian editorial here. RG editorial and Freyd Op-Ed here.
Meanwhile the OA’s who first reported that the UO GC had taken the records have filed a tort claim against UO alleging that UO has retaliated against them for whistleblowing. And UO AVP for Collaboration Chuck Triplett has been using the fact that the Senate resolution required a temporary suspension of the rules to argue that the Senate is out of control and can’t be trusted with shared governance. Not a smart place to pick a fight, Chuck.
The Chronicle’s story here omits the remarkably difficult and successful effort that led to this proposed policy change:
Student medical records should stay private with only a few, specific exceptions in cases where colleges that are sued need the information to defend themselves, according to draft guidance provided to colleges on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
… Student-privacy protections became a hot-button national issue this year after a University of Oregon student who said she had been raped by three basketball players sued the university, claiming it violated her civil rights when university lawyers pulled her therapy records from a campus counseling center. That case has since been settled.
… After the Oregon case was publicized, mental-health supporters and women’s advocates expressed outrage online and demanded clarification about what the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as Ferpa, allows colleges to do with students’ medical records. Ferpa is a federal law that provides privacy protections for student records, and colleges that violate it could lose their eligibility for federal student aid. It also provides assurance of confidentiality to students seeking support after a traumatic event.
“We want to set the expectation that, with respect to litigation between institutions of higher education and students, institutions generally should not share student medical records with school attorneys or courts, without a court order or written consent,” Ms. Styles wrote.
… Nothing in the Education Department’s new guidance indicated that Oregon officials overstepped their authority in accessing the woman’s counseling records. However, its caution that colleges should pull such records only “in the rarest of circumstances,” such as when campus safety is threatened, raises questions about whether such a move was necessary. …