overviewfrequently asked questionscases & resources
  FAQs >
Would filtering the Internet at public colleges and universities violate the First Amendment?
Don't certain kinds of harsh or insensitive speech tend to silence others' free expression, thereby working against the free exchange of ideas?
Can't a public college stadium prohibit fan profanity because there are kids in the stands?
May I hand out election-campaign literature on public land?
Why shouldn't public colleges be allowed some say in the type of research done by their professors or the funding sources if a line of inquiry might negatively affect the school?
What is academic freedom?
Is academic freedom limited to professors?
As long as they don't discriminate against certain speakers or messages, what's wrong with campus free-speech zones?
What about independent student newspapers or fliers? Can schools control their distribution?
Are college journalists entitled to all the same liberties as professional journalists?
How independent are public college/university-operated electronic media?
What if other students try to prevent distribution of student publications that they find offensive?
Are public colleges permitted to put any restrictions on the student groups that they will recognize? What if activities advocated by a group are illegal?
Can a college student invoke his or her religious beliefs to avoid engaging in an objectionable type of artistic expression?
A college professor makes references to materials of a sexual nature during his lecture. Could he be disciplined for such comments or is this protected speech?
Can people who oppose a speaker's message use their 'freedom of speech' to drown out the offending words?
What exactly is 'directory information'?
Why would the news media want or need personal information about individual students or incidents?
May a student sue a private university for damages under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)?

This question was the issue in the Supreme Court case Gonzaga University v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273 (2002). In the 7-2 ruling, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the majority that a student may not sue a private university for damages under any provision of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Gonzaga University v. Doe involved a student, John Doe, who intended to apply to become a teacher upon graduating from Gonzaga. In order to become a public school teacher in Washington state, an individual must file an affidavit of good moral character from his or her graduating university. But a Gonzaga teacher-certification specialist overheard another student describing sexual misconduct by Doe, the student who became the plaintiff in this lawsuit. The specialist contacted the Washington state agency responsible for teacher certification, identified Doe and discussed the allegations of sexual misconduct. Subsequently, Doe, who had no knowledge of the investigation at the time, was denied the certification affidavit. Doe sued Gonzaga University on the grounds of a FERPA violation. The trial court awarded Doe both compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals held that FERPA does not create enforceable rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983. The Washington Supreme Court expanded on the appeals court's ruling, reasoning that although FERPA does not give rise to private causes of action, its non-disclosure provision does create an enforceable right under 42 U.S.C. §1983. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Washington Supreme Court and held that students and parents may not sue for damages under FERPA because FERPA’s nondisclosure provisions “contain no rights-creating language … they serve primarily to direct the Secretary of Education’s distribution of public funds to educate institutions.”

View All Answers    Clear All Answers
print this   Print

Last system update: Saturday, April 24, 2010 | 15:09:59
free speech on public college campuses issues >
Hate speech & campus speech codes
Academic freedom
Free-speech zones
Student newspapers & yearbooks
Student fees & clubs
Art controversies
Sexual harassment
Campus speakers
FOI on campus
Fan profanity