Scarlet Letters

Chapman U. dean under scrutiny for scolding outcast fraternity

"'Personally identifiable' is the phrase around which the whole world of FERPA swirls," he said. "It wouldn't necessarily have to be their name; anything that could tie a student to a record or incident could be an issue."

Kertes did not return repeated interview requests for this story.

Chapman breached FERPA once before, in 2002, according to Department of Education documents, when a student overheard a professor busting another student for plagiarism, the documents said. The incident resulted in Chapman faculty being forced to undergo additional FERPA training, the documents said.

The men of Sigma Alpha Mu. Photo by Jonathan Ho.
The men of Sigma Alpha Mu. Photo by Jonathan Ho.

But training aside, the top administrator at Chapman doesn't seem to pay the law much respect.

Chapman President James Doti, who declined a request to comment on this story, recently expressed his distaste for FERPA in an April 29 Op-Ed column in The Orange County Register. Doti said FERPA—which he described as "ham-fisted"—prevented Virginia Tech from foreseeing madman Cho Seung-Hui's murderous rampage last month. Doti's argument was that fewer restrictions on information sharing could help keep students safer.

For the members of Sigma Alpha Mu, being painted as a renegade band of outlaws hasn't stopped them from carrying on with their fraternity.

Bradshaw said the Department of Education responds to all complaints, but the process sometimes takes months because of a backlog. If Chapman is found to have breached the law, the school would probably only need to show it has done something to remedy the situation, like more training for faculty and staff. The department's ultimate punitive measure is to cut schools off from all federal funding, which includes student loans, but that measure has never been used, Bradshaw said.

DeMaria says that with 11 members remaining, the fraternity will continue next year, off campus. However, if the school waits six years to add another fraternity, all of those students will be gone. And even if the fraternity can hold out until the next round, there is no guarantee they will ever be recognized by Chapman.

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