Initially approved: January 8, 2001
Revised: March 1, 2010
Revised: August 15, 2011
Policy Topic: Governance and Administration
Administering Office: Office of Legal Counsel
Western Carolina University (the “University”) is committed to a policy of transparency, honesty, and cooperation, and will respond to public records and other record requests in accordance with applicable state and federal laws. The purpose of this policy is to provide for the orderly response to requests for copies of public records, student education records and directory information, and employee personnel records.
“Education records” are defined in accordance with University Policy #72, Family Educational Rights and Privacy (“FERPA”), as those records directly related to a student and maintained by the University or by a party acting for the University. Education records do not include the following:
1. Records of instructional, supervisory, administrative, and certain educational personnel that are in the sole possession of the maker, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other individual except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record (e.g., file notes of conversations);
2. Records created and maintained by University Police for the purpose of law enforcement;
3. Records relating to individuals who are employed by the University that are made and maintained in the normal course of business, relate exclusively to individuals in their capacity as employees, and are not available for use for any other purpose;
4. Student medical and counseling records created and maintained by a physician, psychologist or other professional that are used only in connection with the provision of medical treatment and/or counseling to the student and are not disclosed to anyone other than individuals providing such treatment/counseling;
5. Records created or received by WCU after a student is no longer a student in attendance and are not directly related to the student’s attendance (i.e., alumni records); and
6. Grades on peer-graded papers before they are collected and recorded by the instructor of record.
“Directory Information” means information contained in a student’s education record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. At the University, directory information is defined as:
1. Student name;
2. Local and home address;
3. Telephone number;
4. Classification (i.e., freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, graduate student);
6. Home county;
7. Major field of study;
9. Dates of attendance;
10. Degrees awarded by the University;
11. Honors and awards received;
12. The most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student;
13. Participation in officially recognized activities and sports;
14. Weight and height of members of athletic teams; and
15. University electronic mail (E-mail) address.
Directory Information does not include a student’s Social Security number or a student’s WCU identification number (i.e., “92-number”).
“Personnel record” means any employment-related or personal information gathered by the University. Employment-related information contained in a personnel record includes information related to an individual's application, selection, promotion, demotion, transfer, leave, salary, contract for employment, benefits, suspension, performance evaluation, disciplinary actions, and termination. Personal information contained in a personnel record includes an individual's home address, social security number, medical history, personal financial data, marital status, dependents, and beneficiaries.
“Public records” are all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of University business, unless an exception applies under federal or state law.
A. Public Records Requests
The Office of Legal Counsel is the official University office to respond to public records requests. Individuals who seek public records of the University must submit a written request to the Office of Legal Counsel, Western Carolina University, 520 H.F.R. Administration Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723. The Office of Legal Counsel will determine the office or offices that hold the requested records, obtain those records, and prepare a response to the request from the individual.
Any administrator, faculty member or staff member who receives a public records request directly from an individual should immediately forward the request to the Office of Legal Counsel.
Nothing in this policy precludes the Office of News Services in the Division of Advancement and External Affairs from working with members of the news media as they report the activities of the University. However, if a member of the news media makes a request for public records, the request should be forwarded immediately to the Office of Legal Counsel
B. Exceptions to Public Records Disclosure Requirements
Certain information is confidential under federal or state law and not subject to release unless otherwise permitted or ordered. Any questions regarding the confidentiality of records or portions of records must be directed to the Office of Legal Counsel prior to release. The most common exceptions include, but are not limited to, the following types of information:
1. Personnel records -- Information in an individual's personnel record is confidential under the State Personnel Privacy Act, but certain information about each employee is open to public inspection under N.C.G.S. 126-23.
2. University students' academic, medical and counseling records -- State law mandates that medical and counseling records are confidential. In addition, FERPA restricts information that can be released about a student, but allows the release of directory information unless the student files a request that it not be released (“privacy block”). Please see the University Policy #72 for the definition of directory information. Before releasing directory information about any student, the employee receiving the request must check with the Office of Registrar to determine whether a student has placed a privacy block on his or her directory information.
3. Library user records -- State law (N.C. Gen. Statute 125-19) states that "a library shall not disclose any library record that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials, information, or services, or as otherwise having used the library." Exceptions include "when necessary for the reasonable operation of the library, upon written consent of the user, or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by law."
4. Patent applications and other documents that contain trade secrets as defined in state law.
5. Certain contract or bid records prior to a final contract.
6. Attorney-client communications and trial preparation materials.
7. Certain criminal investigation and law enforcement records.
8. Emergency response plans.
A. Access and Inspection by Students
In accordance with University Policy #72, FERPA provides students with the right to inspect and review information contained in their education records, except as provided below. University officials shall consult with the Office of Legal Counsel prior to providing copies of education records to students or third parties.
Students wishing to inspect their education records must make written requests to the University official responsible for maintaining the records, listing the record(s) of interest. The requested records will be made available within a reasonable period of time, but no more than forty-five (45) days of receipt of the request. Generally, students may have copies of their education records, subject to the fee and service charge provisions in this policy, if circumstances make on-site inspection impractical and the student is in good standing (for example, a student is not in good standing if a financial "hold" exists).
Students may not inspect and review the following records/information:
1. Financial information submitted by their parents;
2. Confidential letters and recommendations associated with admissions, employment or job placement, or honors to which they have waived their rights of inspection and review;
3. Education records containing information about more than one student, in which case the University will permit access only to that part of the record which pertains to the inquiring student;
4. Admissions information and application materials related to applicants who were denied admission to the University; or
5. Records that are excluded from FERPA.
B. Requests for Directory Information
In accordance with University Policy #72, Family Educational Rights and Privacy, unless a student requests otherwise, a student's name, local address, home address, and e-mail address are directory information items and may be released lawfully by the University. The University has determined that unregulated release of such information is neither in the best interests of its students nor an efficient use of University resources. Requests for student directory information will generally be approved, but the University reserves the right to decide whether a specific request is in the best interests of its students.
Directory information can be provided by electronic transfer.
Reports not associated with the business of the University will be run with a priority after University requests. If a student has requested that directory information not be released from his/her education records, that student's information shall be excluded from the data released.
Student addresses are updated through the University census date, normally the 10 th class day of each term. Accurate address information will not be available until after the census date. Requests for data on newly admitted students who have not yet had the opportunity to request that directory information be restricted will not be honored until after the last day to register for the term in question.
Requestors entitled only to directory information cannot receive information sorted by any non-directory-information characteristic (for example, names and addresses sorted by ethnic group). Some directory information such as students' names, local addresses and e-mail addresses is made available on the University's web site.
When sought for official University business, requests for a student's home address should be made to the Registrar's Office. When sought for any reason other than official University business, the Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness will process all requests for student directory information.
Recognized student groups may receive from the Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness, for no cost, a data file of student addresses for purposes of preparing mailing labels. A record will be maintained of all on- and off-campus individuals or entities receiving student directory information.
The Office of Human Resources at the University has been designated to coordinate the inspection and review procedures for personnel records. The Office of Human Resources shall consult with the Office of Legal Counsel prior to providing copies of personnel records to employees or third parties.
Personnel records are generally confidential and are not subject to inspection under the North Carolina Public Records Act. However, certain information is available to the public and the Office of Human Resources shall maintain a record of each employee showing the following information:
3. Date of original employment or appointment;
4. The terms of any contract by which the employee is employed whether written or oral, past and current, to the extent that the University has the written contract or a record of the oral contract in its possession;
5. Current position;
7. Current salary;
8. Date and amount of each increase or decrease in salary;
9. Date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification;
10. Date and general description of the reasons for each promotion;
11. Date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons taken by the University. If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the head of the department setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal; and
12. The office or station to which the employee is currently assigned.
If a requestor asks for copies of documents, the University may charge the actual costs of the copies. Generally, the University will not charge for the costs of copies unless the number of pages exceeds fifty (50) pages. Thereafter, the charge will be five cents ($0.05) per page or the current printing system cost per page.
If the request is such as to require extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance, or if producing the records in the medium requested results in an excessive use of information technology resources, then the University may charge, in addition to the copying fee, a special service charge. The special service charge will be reasonable and no greater than the actual costs incurred. The University considers more than four (4) hours to constitute extensive use of personnel. If preparation of the response to the request exceeds four (4) hours, the University will charge a presumed rate of eighteen dollars ($18.00) per hour for the additional time. The Office of Legal Counsel will provide an estimate of the costs for an extraordinary request prior to making the records available for inspection or release and allow the requestor the option of either agreeing to pay the charge or revising the request to narrow its nature or scope. Multiple requests within a short period of time from the same individual will be considered a single request for purposes of determining whether to charge under this section.
This policy shall be reviewed and revised as necessary every two (2) years.
University Policy #72, Family Education Rights and Privacy (FERPA or Buckley Amendment)