Academic Advising Resources

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Frequently Asked Question

Q:  On the issue is privacy in academic advising offices, has NACADA or any other group come up with recommendations as to how much space, distance, noise/sight barriers are necessary to insure student confidentiality?is maintained?

First let me congratulate your college on the redesign of your advising facilities. In this time of increased legal and ethical scrutiny, it is important that your advising facilities are not a liability as you seek to provide students with the best advising possible. To assist colleges in tasks similar to yours, we compiled resources (see above) that may help with your privacy and design concerns.

I would suggest that you and your administration begin by taking special note of Part 11 of the CAS Standards that includes: 'Privacy and freedom from visual and auditory distractions should be considerations in designing appropriate facilities.'

Privacy issues as they deal with facilities are a FERPA issue - office structures that allow students to overhear what should be private conversations between an advisor and another student are not prudent. One classic article from the NACADA Journal (1998) is by Jeffrey A. Showell - Some legal implications in academic advising.

On p. 41, Showell states 'The biggest danger to FERPA for an academic advisor is the inadvertent release of information about an advisee. Before communicating with anyone about the student (except, of course, other university employees with a legitimate educational interest in the information) advisors should obtain written permission from the advisee--even if a waiver is supposedly on file.'

'Violation of FERPA cannot lead to a federal suit against the advisor by the victim (Smith v. Duquesne, 1986). The only remedy provided by FERPA is the cutoff of federal funds to the institution.' ...However, 'a state civil remedy may be applicable...for example, unauthorized release of a transcript (especially one with bad grades) could be actionable and damages payable. This case is especially powerful if the offense is committed at a public institution and can thus be portrayed as an excessive governmental intrusion into private affairs; the grades are indeed of no legitimate public concern.'

It just takes one discussion of poor grades overheard in a crowded area or over a cubicle wall to make the institution liable. That argument was effectively used with administration in the redesign of the Advising Center in one of my former positions. With that in mind we moved advisors into offices with closable doors and solid walls.

Although not directly discussing office space challenges, Bill Van Dusen does a good job explaining FERPA privacy issues in his overview FERPA: Basic Guidelines for Faculty and Staff: A Simple Step-by-Step Approach For Compliance

Marsha Miller
NACADA Assistant Director, Resources & Services

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