A state Superior Court judge on Monday determined that a spreadsheet of athletes by sport who were enrolled in the earliest-known classes in a long-running academic fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill cannot be made public.
Judge Bryan Collins of Wake County found after a 50-minute review of the spreadsheet that if he made it public, at least one unidentified athlete would be known through other public records on UNC’s website. Another athlete had a one-in-four chance of being identified, the judge said.
“Having done this with so little knowledge of the information and in such short order, it is abundantly clear to the Court that releasing (the spreadsheet) to the public would be in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” Collins wrote in a three-page decision.
The News & Observer sued UNC for the records in January after learning of the spreadsheet through other public records requests. Earlier this month, Collins determined that such a spreadsheet – which listed each class, when it was held and how many athletes enrolled by sport – could be released so long as it did not identify a particular athlete.
The N&O was not seeking information that would identify particular athletes but sought to know how many athletes were in each confirmed bogus class by sport in order to help answer how the scandal started and why.
“We’re disappointed in the judge’s decision,” said John Drescher, The N&O’s executive editor. “We are not interested in identifying individual athletes. UNC has released similar data for a more recent time period. We hope the university will release the data going back to 1997 in a manner that protects the athletes’ privacy.”
In a statement, UNC said, “The University is pleased with Judge Collins’ ruling to uphold the privacy rights of our students. Protecting these rights is one of the most important responsibilities colleges and universities have, and we are grateful for the court’s decision.”
UNC had withheld the information, saying it would lead to the identification of particular athletes. That could trigger a potential violation of the federal act, which requires colleges to keep many individual student education records private.
The university has cited that law numerous times in denying information related to the scandal.