Feds seek foreign students’ data from 220 schools

by Elizabeth Putnam

Federal agents have contacted 220 college administrators nationwide since Sept. 11 to request directory information and education records for international students of Middle Eastern descent, according to a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admissions Offices.

Several officials from Big Ten schools, including the University, said federal agents have not contacted them. However, the FBI did contact Ohio State University on either Sept. 12 or 13, said spokeswoman Amy Murray.

Results from 220 out of 1,638 colleges show the majority of requests came from FBI agents inquiring about particular individuals. Some inquiries also came from Immigration and Naturalization Service officials and authorities from unnamed federal agencies.

The data was published earlier this month in a report evaluating campus consequences of the Sept. 11 attacks. University admissions director Wayne Sigler said he’s not aware of federal agents contacting the University but a procedure is in place if the school is notified.

“We would work with our attorneys to make sure we are handling everything from all respects,” Sigler said.

Sigler said the University would work with AACRAO, which has devised guidelines for these types of inquiries.

AACRAO requires a subpoena or court order accompany all nonconsensual releases of requests for non-directory information.

Director of International Student and Scholar Services Kay Thomas said her department has not had any requests, but if the University were contacted, officials would proceed under Office of the General Counsel advisement.

After the FBI obtained a subpoena for information about specific students, Ohio State gave general directory information and class schedules, Murray said.

Tina Falkner, assistant to the University registrar’s office, said directory information such as addresses and telephone numbers is public, but academic records are private.

University of Wisconsin-Madison spokesman John Lucas said the university has not been contacted, but a detailed procedure was recently reviewed with campus administrators.

“Any request for information we receive is funneled through our Legal and Executive Affairs office first before any information is given out,” said Lucas. “We require a subpoena for information, but with recent events, it has become easier for officials to obtain those subpoenas.”

Bill Murphy, University of Illinois-Champagne-Urbana spokesman, would not comment on whether the university had been contacted, but he said it would cooperate with an investigation if presented with a subpoena.

The Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for International Students and Institutions, devised in February 1997, provides that international students should have assurance that personal information about them may be used only by those persons with a legitimate right to know.

In a statement before the House Education Committee on Oct. 31, Deputy Commissioner Michael Becraft said educational institutions are required to provide information upon request about employment, field of study and program dates to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Daniel Crane, an INS spokesman, would not say why certain colleges were identified.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]