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The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled against the University’s intent to keep private the records of disciplinary action against students found to have violated sexual assault policy.
In a 4-3 vote, the court said UNC must release certain records that it believed were protected by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. UNC “must comply with the North Carolina Public Records Act and allow plaintiffs to have access to the name of the student, the violation committed, and any sanction imposed by the University on that student in response to plaintiffs’ records request,” the court ruled.
The ruling included: “It is important to emphasize that this Court lacks the authority to determine whether the release of the records sought by plaintiffs is wise or unwise as a matter of public policy. Congress has expressly made that determination by conferring discretion upon universities regarding the disclosure of such information.”
The University, through its vice chancellor for communications, Joel Curran ’86, said: “We are deeply disappointed with today’s decision. We respect the court’s deliberations and appreciate the opportunity to be heard during the appeals process. We are carefully reviewing the decision.”
Four news organizations — The Daily Tar Heel, The Charlotte Observer, The Herald-Sun of Durham and WRAL’s Capitol Broadcasting — filed suit in 2016 after UNC refused public records requests for the names, offenses and punishments for students found responsible for sexual misconduct since 2007.
The University argued before the high court last summer that releasing names would discourage victims and witnesses from coming forward.
Hugh Stevens ’65 (’68 JD), the lawyer for the news companies, argued that to withhold the records hinders the public’s understanding of how the University handles sexual impropriety cases.
The high court upheld a 2018 decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals that the records should be public.