Registrar implements new FERPA policy for recommendation requests

Luther’s Registrar has implemented a new Family Education Rights and Privacy Act policy that changes the policy for receiving letters of recommendation. Now, students and alums will be required to fill out a form, which is valid for one year, to submit to any individual from whom they request a recommendation for job, school, or scholarship applications. Students and alums can download the form from the Registrar’s Office website and should send a copy via email to both the Registrar’s Office and the reference provider.

According to Registrar Richard Bernatz (‘77), this newly instituted policy applies only to references provided to people or organizations external to Luther when students are seeking education or employment opportunities such as a scholarship, graduate school, an internship, or a job. The forms are not necessary for study away or on-campus work-study references. This policy and its companion form address two aspects related to FERPA: information release consent and confidentiality of the reference.

“The reference release and waiver form make it clear to the parties involved in the reference process what information the reference person can provide, to whom the information can be given, for what purposes, for how long the release of information consent will last,” Bernatz said. “The newly adopted consent form provides the student an option of waiving their right of access to the reference material retained in their Luther academic record. Thus, the reference provider is assured the reference information they provide is truly confidential on both ends of the communication, resulting in a more powerful reference.”

As all faculty members have been informed of the new policy through the Dean’s weekly posting and through email on April 30, they are now requested to inform students and have them fill out the consent forms upon receiving recommendation requests. Prior to this change, there was no similar policy. This exposed the college and its employees to the potential consequences of violating FERPA.

“Clarity and transparency in the reference process will increase for both the student and the reference person, as well as protection for the student against the unwanted release of components of the student’s record such as grades, class rank, and attendance records,” Bernatz said.

Professor of English David Faldet (’79) used to agree to be a reference via email or verbally. While he recognizes there is a threat of having referential information misused, Faldet thinks this new policy is quite burdensome.

“That’s especially true for people off-campus,” Faldet said. “This semester I am in England, and so a student needs to sign, scan, and email the form to me, and I have to print, sign, scan, and email the form on my end.  That’s all in addition to giving the actual reference. The form is also quite specific, so I will need to start keeping and filing a copy to see what I have agreed to for any given person. That’s an added pain.”

Sarah Holtz (‘20) was informed of the new policy by her coach, and thinks that the change is largely unnecessary.

“I think that it is a lot of work,” Holtz said. “If someone agrees to be a reference, then there shouldn’t be a problem. The only reason I think this would be necessary is if people are citing false references, which I do not think is very common because the references are contacted.”

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