The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

We're constantly signing our lives away. And most of the time, we scribble our names across the dotted line without even giving it a second thought.

Every year, roughly a third of the freshman class signs bid cards for a fraternity or a sorority and becomes members of Penn's historic Greek community.

Scott Reikofski, director of the Office Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, encourages all recipients to read the information on their cards carefully. That includes a disclaimer on the back regarding academic privacy. By signing, new members allow OFSA to release their records to the presidents and scholarship chairs of their Greek organization (those are fellow students, not Penn staff).

But how does OFSA obtain students' grades in the first place? According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a university can disclose private information to "school officials with legitimate educational interest."

Finding this phrase quite ambiguous, I consulted Lauren Steinfeld, chief privacy officer at Penn's Office of Audit, Compliance and Privacy.

"It is a pretty broad standard that allows sharing with University officials who need the information to do their jobs," Steinfeld said. For OFSA, she explained, the data are necessary because it "facilitates University operations."


And yes, when new members sign their bid cards, they do permit their classmates to see their grades, but signature or not, such possession is both inappropriate and useless. A fellow student - who is certainly not a "school official" - shouldn't have access to records that even parents can't see.

Reikofski explained that each semester, students initially receive only the average GPAs of all chapters. However, they can obtain specific grades upon request, often for scholarship funds. And, on occasion, to address low grades.

But this isn't how it should work.

Students should apply for scholarships independently. As far as intervention, no student should have such intrusive power over a fellow student's personal issues. Wharton senior and Panhellenic Council president Catie Vuksich said she would be open to training students to deal with confronting other students, but that still wouldn't get at the root of the problem.

Granted, it would be impossible to ask Reikofski to manage the 3,300 different Greek GPAs singlehandedly, yet someone needs to track this information. If OFSA isn't up to task itself, someone who isn't a student should be found to do the job.

Luckily, that person may already exist.

OFSA requires each group to identify "a chapter adviser," a fraternity alumnus still in the Philadelphia area. This impartial outsider neither has close relationships nor is in competition with the students and would be the perfect supervisor for chapter academics.

The adviser should function like the coach of an athletic team, who is responsible to disciplining students with bad grades. We don't see Penn disclosing grade information to a team captain, after all.

In response, Reikofski argued that while a coach manages an athletic team, the students themselves run fraternities and sororities. He insists that "growing comes from learning to take care of each other, and govern an organization." True, but academic confrontations can only hamper the growth of such relationships.

Most new members are incredibly excited to become active in their fraternities and sororities. Few would likely give up this privilege simply because of the University's grade disclosure policy. New members seem to have no choice but to sign the bid cards if they want to enter the Greek community.

Surprisingly, Reikofski explained that students can actually come in and ask him to omit their grades from individual chapter reports. Yet, most members are unaware of their choice because OFSA chooses to hide this important detail.

"It's not something that's publicized because it's a lot more effort to make sure that's done," Reikofski said.

But how much effort could it take to add a small checkbox to Penn InTouch? Better yet, maybe the default policy should be to not disclose grades to other students, forcing new members to opt in, not opt out.

Instead of making students aware of their options, OFSA simply waits for the occasional student who is brave enough to seek out the information. Apparently, it's too much "effort" to actively inform students of their privacy rights as fraternity and sorority members. Well, consider this the public announcement that has been hidden for so long.

Sharon Udasin is a College senior from East Brunswick, N.J. Her e-mail address is Shed a Little Light appears on Mondays.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.