33. Preservation of Confidential Information in Teaching
Case 33: Preservation of Confidential Information in Teaching
Professor John Jay teaches courses in race and ethnicity and sex and
gender. He has found that the material in both courses meets with a
fair amount of resistance from some of his students for whom the
courses raise issues of a very personal nature. A colleague has
suggested that he might use journals as a way of giving students a
forum in which they can safely vent their feelings about what they are
reading and learning. Professor Jay did this for the first time this
last semester. He collected the journals several times during the
semester and they did give him some insights into what students were
grappling with as they progressed through the course. The students also
seemed to appreciate the chance to express themselves. He gave the
students grades for the journals that were based more on the effort
they represent than on the content. This was as the students expected.
Professor Jay also required that the students write term papers for the
class. After grades were passed in, he placed both the journals and the
papers on the floor outside his office for the students to retrieve.
This has always been his practice in returning student work and is that
of his colleagues.
1. Does this practice violate Professor Jay's obligation
to protext the confidentiality of the students' journals?
2. Has Professor Jay any legal obligation with regard to
graded student work?
Reflect on the above questions and form your
own answers before clicking the Discussion
key to review the commentary provided with this case.
Professor Jay might think about the fact that a wide range of passersby
have access to very personal writing because of his practice. Even if
he has not promised students confidentiality, he might think about
whether or not students would feel violated should they come to
understand that others have had access to material they thought they
were sharing with only him. Professor Jay might also consider what such
a discovery might mean for his efforts to have students share thoughts
and feelings about emotionally-charged class material in the future and
how this might affect both the climate in which he and his colleagues
teach and the climate in which the students learn. Professor Jay should
probably check with university legal counsel about the advisability of
the departmental practice of leaving students papers and journals in
the hallway for pick-up. Failure to protect the confidentiality of
student grades is not only unethical, but may violate the Family
Educational Rights and Privacy