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Office of Student Success

Academic Advising Handbook: Legal and Ethical Issues

Contractual Relationship

Through its publications, most notably the catalog and departmental materials, the university establishes contractual obligations between the institution and students. Responsibility for knowing requirements ultimately rests with students, and advisors will not be held personally liable for negligent, irresponsible, or capricious behavior of students. By keeping complete and accurate notes of advising sessions, advisors can forestall future disputes as well as protect themselves against claims of erroneous advising.

Guidelines Governing Student Records

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) establishes students’ rights to access and challenge the content of educational records. It also controls the distribution of record information to outside parties. Under the law, institutions must:

  • Give students the opportunity to challenge records that are inaccurate;
  • Get written consent before disclosing personally identifiable information about students;
  • Keep records of third parties who request or obtain student records;
  • Provide students with information about their rights under the law;
  • Provide students with access to educational records (e.g. advising records).

Any notes should be written with this in mind; notes of a personal nature should not be included in the file. University officials with a legitimate interest may view student files but other parties may do so only with student permission. For example, advisors should not reveal specific information about students to parents or spouses unless they have permission written permission from the student to do so.

Visit the Registrar's Office website for information on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act:  http://www.k-state.edu/registrar/ferpa/ferpa.html

Privileged communication

Even though students have a right to privacy, advisors may discuss confidential information with other appropriate university officials in an effort to help the student. Courts generally respect this right and do not hold advisors liable for statements considered as privileged communications. At times, students will come to advisors with personal problems; normally these problems should remain confidential. In some instances, however, a student may tell the advisor of certain intentions that would prove harmful to the student or possibly to others, such as the intention to commit suicide or the desire to harm another person. Although the statements are made in confidence, a legal obligation rests with the advisor to disclose such information to an appropriate party, such as parents, an intended victim, the counseling center director, Dean of Students, or police.

Academic due process and the need for grievance procedures

It is good policy to recognize the limitations of the role of advisors. Knowing when and where to refer students who present questions or problems that extend beyond the scope of advising or the individual advisor's knowledge can help avoid charges of inappropriate or inaccurate advising and the possible consequences of such allegations. Advisors who are confronted with student grievances concerning academic affairs, such as erroneous advising, should be familiar with the catalog and inform students of appropriate administrative remedies.

Reprinted with permission from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) www.nacada.ksu.edu