F23-03Posted on May 18, 2023 in Formal Opinions
OIP Op. Ltr. No. F23-03
May 18, 2023
Name of Student Members Serving on Admissions Committee for William S. Richardson School of Law
An anonymous requester made three separate requests to the University of Hawaii (UH) for records showing the names of all students and faculty serving on the UH William S. Richardson School of Law Admissions Committee (Admissions Committee) for the 2019-2020 through 2022-2023 school years. UH provided the faculty names but denied access to the student names under the UIPA’s sections 92F-4 and 92F‑13(1) and (4), HRS, and the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. section 1232g, and rules promulgated thereunder. Requester filed three appeals of UH’s three denials, which OIP consolidated in this opinion.
OIP previously concluded in OIP Opinion Letter Number 89-9 (Opinion 89-9) that names of faculty and student members of the Admissions Committee may not be withheld under the UIPA’s privacy or frustration exceptions at section 92F-13(1) and (3), HRS. OIP treated UH’s responses to the appeals as a request for reconsideration of Opinion 89-9. OIP partially granted the reconsideration request based on a change in the law and compelling circumstances. Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR) § 2-73-19.
The conclusions In Opinion 89-9 regarding the applicability of the privacy and frustration exceptions at section 92F-13(1) and (3), HRS, were not reconsidered in this opinion. However, section 92F-4, HRS, which was enacted after Opinion 89-9 was issued, allows agencies to waive compliance with the UIPA when doing so is necessary to avoid losing federal funding or other services. Based on this change in the law, OIP reconsidered its ultimate conclusion in Opinion 89-9 that student names may not be withheld. UH is an agency that receives funding under FERPA, which provides that funds shall not be made available to an educational institution that has a policy or practice of permitting the release of education records without written consent. 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1). Based on advice from the U.S. Department of Education which administers FERPA, OIP found that the names of student members are part of their education records under FERPA, and thus concluded that UH may deny access to the student names under section 92F-4, HRS, in order to prevent jeopardizing its federal funding under FERPA. This opinion did not change OIP’s prior conclusions in Opinion 89-9 that names of faculty and student members of the Admissions Committee may not be withheld under the UIPA’s privacy or frustration exceptions.