Marsha Miller, Kansas State University
To assist colleges in tasks similar to yours, the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources compiled several resource links http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Resources-for-Designing-an-Office.aspx that can help with office layout, size and privacy issues. While on that site look at longtime NACADA member Pat Folsom's article http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/portals/0/clearinghouse/Links/documents/Folsom-space-M22.pdf.
First, I would suggest that you and your administration take special note of CAS Standards for academic advising http://standards.cas.edu/getpdf.cfm?PDF=E864D2C4-D655-8F74-2E647CDECD29B7D0. Part 11 (p. 17 and 18) FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT that includes the statements: "The design of the facilities must guarantee the security and privacy of records and ensure the confidentiality of sensitive information".
Privacy issues as they deal with facilities are a FERPA issue. Simply stated, office structures that allow students to overhear what should be private conversations between an advisor and another student are not prudent. One of the most readily accessible articles on the subject is Showell, Jeffrey A., "Some legal implications in academic advising," NACADA Journal 18(2), 40-46, which can be found at http://nacadajournal.org/doi/pdf/10.12930/0271-9517-18.2.40.
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 poor grade discussion 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.