“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” –Harry Truman
It’s the end of the term here at my college, as well as most colleges across the nation. And while the students are freaking out about finals, grades, and other things associated with the end of the semester, there’s a new one that’s coming up more and more frequently all across the nation.
I’m looking squarely at you, helicopter parents. While college students, perhaps, should be going through and learning to cope with the stresses of higher education, many of them are more concerned with what their parents are going to say if they get a bad grade, drop a class, or even (gasp) choose to major in the subject they really like.
And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting your child to succeed or wanting your parents to be happy and proud of you, there’s a line that I want to make very clear. I want it to be clear to students, parents, and professors.
College and University students have a right to privacy. In the United States, it’s called FERPA: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. And there are a lot of rights and protections that you have as a student eighteen or over, and that you must respect as both a parent and a professor.
As a student, your grades, enrollment, assignments, and interactions with professors are all completely confidential. As a professor, I am not allowed, legally, to give out any information whatsoever about a student without that student’s explicit permission.
And, like practically all professors, I don’t. But this message is most important for parents, and for students who are worried about their irate parents.
What happens if a parent calls or emails a professor? (Which, by the way, you should never, ever do unless the student is having a medical emergency.)
Quite simply, I can’t give out any information, other than other phone numbers on campus.
Want to know how your child is doing in my class? Can’t tell you.
Want to know if your child has been showing up? Can’t tell you.
Want to know if your child is even enrolled in my class? Can’t tell you.
College students get treated like adults in college, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of adults. And unless it’s the academic advising office or the student has explicitly told me that I can discuss their academics with a third party, what happens in a professor’s class is no one else’s business.
And this is true for all students in all Colleges and Universities everywhere in the country. Before a student even steps into a professor’s class, this agreement is in place. Students: you are legally protected academically, and no one can invade your academic privacy without your permission. Professors: you are legally protected from parents, friends, administrators, coworkers, or anyone else who wants to break academic confidentiality. And parents: most of you are absolutely wonderful and supportive of your children’s rights, ambitions, and choices, and I laud you for that.
But to those who would breach that academic privacy, you have no power here.
FERPA protects all college students, past and present, from having their academics discussed with a third party without express permission from the student.
To all the students, professors, and all the good parents out there, spread this information, and let people know that their academic privacy is legally protected, and that nobody — not even parents — can override that.