Metro State Professor Violated Privacy Act · 28 December 2003

Dismissal sought for Metro teacher

By Dave Curtin--Denver Post, 12/24/03

A student at Metropolitan State College of Denver says his former professor violated a federal student privacy law, and he's asking the college to investigate.

George Culpepper, a junior at the school, said the college's response will determine if he files a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, he said, he wants the professor fired.

The law allows him to file the complaint within 180 days of the alleged offense. If repeated complaints are validated and ignored, it could hurt a school's federal funding, Metro State attorneys said.

Culpepper said political science professor Oneida Meranto violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) when she mentioned his academic performance in a Dec. 19 article in The Denver Post. The act requires schools to have written permission from the student to release any information in a student's education record.

In the article, Meranto was paraphrased as saying Culpepper dropped her class because he hadn't done enough of the work and knew he couldn't pass.

Meranto was responding - at The Post's request - to allegations by Culpepper during a legislative hearing at the state Capitol on Thursday exploring political bias on college campuses. State Senate President John Andrews had asked students to testify to examples of discrimination, harassment or punishment based on their political beliefs.

College professors, including Meranto, were not at the hearing to hear the allegations against them.

Meranto said Tuesday that it's Culpepper - not her - making a public issue of his performance in the class by testifying before a legislative committee and in previous media interviews.

"He's made this very public. He's been very visible about this,' Meranto said.

During the hearing, Andrews asked students not to name the offending professors. But written testimony coordinated and distributed to the media by the Golden-based conservative think tank Independence Institute did name professors.

During the hearing, Culpepper, president of the Auraria Campus Republicans, testified to a personal dispute with Meranto dating to last October.

Culpepper said Meranto, adviser to the campus Political Science Association, accused the Auraria Campus Republicans of working with the Independence Institute to get her and other left-leaning professors fired. She also said Republicans should withdraw from the Political Science Association, Culpepper said, adding that he was offended because the club is nonpartisan.

Meranto said last week and again Tuesday that Culpepper misquoted her.

Culpepper further testified at the hearing that he was forced to drop Meranto's Latin American Politics class because he didn't think he would receive a fair grade. He said she accused him in a personal e-mail of being unethical and unfair for taking credit in the campus newspaper as president of the Campus Republicans for a successful petition drive to save the intercollegiate sports program.

Meranto said the effort was the work of the Political Science Association as a whole, along with another group. She said she was representing other students' feelings as adviser to both groups in sending the e-mail to Culpepper.

"By saying (in The Post) I was going to going to fail, she violated FERPA," Culpepper said this week. "The reason I wasn't going to class is because I was dropping it after she called me unethical and unfair.'

Culpepper said he had a B in the class at the time he began procedures to drop it.

"I have 180 days to file the complaint, and I will wait to see what the school's response is going to be,' said Culpepper, who is scheduled to begin an internship in Andrews' communications office Jan. 5.

"She needs to be terminated,' Culpepper said. "If she is fired, I won't file. They don't want to lose federal funding. If they do, there's no more Metro State.'

School officials said they are taking the complaint seriously but believe if the school is in violation of FERPA, it would require repeated violations and inaction to lose federal funding.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education was unavailable Tuesday to clarify possible penalties.

"The college will be doing an investigation to see if we are in violation of FERPA,' said Metro State spokeswoman Cathy Lucas. "If we are, we will respond to that. Right now, it's in the initial investigation mode.'