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The Tribune will not be allowed to review the names of college students who are disciplined by schools for violent or sexual misconduct on campus.
In a 3-2 vote Thursday, the state Records Committee agreed with Utah's eight public colleges and universities that the names of students found to be "responsible" for the most severe acts of misconduct are restricted records. The schools argued that releasing the names would amount to an invasion of personal privacy, jeopardize due process for the accused, deter victims from reporting misconduct, or create a risk of retaliation against victims who do report.
The committee declined to discuss The Tribune's argument that a federal student privacy law specifically allows for the release of that information, or that accessing the names of disciplined students was necessary to learn whether individual students have been implicated in multiple accusations or evaluate whether schools were protecting certain offenders.
"Nationwide, campuses are under scrutiny," said Tribune higher-education reporter Annie Knox. The information would "shed light on how colleges handle violence on their campuses and allegations of violence against their students."
Knox had requested records of student discipline in cases where allegations of sexual misconduct or other physical violence were sustained by school investigators. The eight schools the University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Dixie State University, Snow College, Salt Lake Community College, Weber State University and Southern Utah University provided a list of case descriptions, such as "assault" and "sexual battery," but did not attach names to the cases.
"In my experience, I absolutely believe that if names of perpetrators are released ... [it] would absolutely stop students from wanting to report," said Jenny Erazo, victim advocate at Utah State University in Logan. She tearfully told the committee that victims who are unwilling to report violence to law enforcement are more willing to initiate the in-school discipline process because it allows them to "get some sense of closure to an ugly, ugly experience in ... a private way."
But in-school discipline should not be so private that it's beyond accountability, Knox argued. Knowing the names of students found to have behaved violently would "help us know when and how often reports of violence are referred to police ... whether school policies are evenly applied to different students ... and how often repeat offenders are sanctioned by the universities and whether this pattern of violence continues if they transfer schools."
Many of the allegations deal with minor fights between roommates and friends, said Lori McDonald, dean of students at the University of Utah, and victims reported them for school discipline believing that the process would be private. She said a common refrain among victims is: "I don't want to ruin their lives. I just want this behavior to stop.
"To remove the confidentiality and sensitivity in this process will rattle it to its core," McDonald said.
Joel Campbell, a journalism professor at the private Brigham Young University and a representative of the Society of Professional Journalists, warned against "overblowing the fact that it's going to be terrible" if disciplined students' names are released. He noted that the state does not hesitate to publicly register sex offenders, even though victims may not wish the publicity on them.
He also pointed to cases such as that of Jesse L. Matthew, who was accused of rape at two universities where he played football before he was charged with murdering a student at the University of Virginia and entered an Alford plea to charges connected to a separate abduction in Fairfax.
The records committee did not discuss the potential public interest served by releasing the students' names. Member Tom Haraldsen proposed releasing the names, but his motion failed without support.
The committee's ruling applies only to disciplinary actions within the school and does not restrict students' criminal records.
The Tribune has 30 days to appeal the decision.