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Letter Polls Parents On Records Access

By Efren Gutierrez

Few parents of MIT undergraduates responded to an informal letter in which Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams discussed a wide array of issues ranging from parental involvement to student life at MIT.

The letter addressed the possible conflict between parents’ desire for information about their son or daughter through school records and legal mandates barring the release of student records without student consent, also known as the Buckley Amendment. Williams requested that parents become involved in their son’s or daughter’s education by talking with them about college life issues such as alcohol.

The letter has received varied responses. One parent said, “I can’t believe that I don’t have the right to know how my child is performing when I’m the one pitching in all of the money.”

Student leaders such as Undergraduate Association President Matthew L. McGann ’00 and Dormitory Council President Jennifer A. Frank ’00 have objected to moves on the part of the Institute to act in loco parentis, or in place of parents, by informing them of student problems.

McGann ‘00 said, “It’s not wise to report one-time instances but when if it becomes a problem it should be reported [to parents].”

Williams wrote, “You (parents) should also know that federal law prohibits colleges and universities form sharing academic or other student records with parents, except in unusual situation.”

She also urges parents to remind students that if they need support or advice, there is always help at MIT in the form the knowledgeable and experienced staff. It also encouraged parents to work with the Institute in helping move a student from adolescence into adulthood.

“MIT’s core educational principle is ‘learning by doing,’ and there is no substitute for experience in learning to behave as an adult,” Williams writes. Her main message is to remind parents that MIT considers students as individuals who are also responsible for their own actions and decisions. She also wrote about the Task Force on Student Life and Learning report issued last year. The report emphasized the importance of MIT community life as an important element of the student’s overall education.

One drawback of this year’s letter was that it was sent out when most freshman students were arriving at MIT for Orientation ’99. Despite poor timing Williams said that there were a few parental responses to the letter during Parent Weekend, most of which were thanking her for sending a frank letter about parental involvement in their son’s or daughter’s education.

Most concerns from parents involved MIT’s limited ability to communicate directly with parents about the children’s student records. Williams suggests that parents inquire directly with their son or daughter about his or her performance in classes. She concludes her letter by addressing the need for a partnership between MIT and parents since students are connected to both. Together, both MIT and parents will continue helping the student’s education.

A previous letter was sent to students prior to Williams’ letter by Dean for Students Margaret R. Bates, Office of Students and Undergraduate Education. The letter was addressed to all incoming freshmen and intended to inform them about MIT’s regulations regarding the subject of alcohol. Williams has said that the two letters are not connected.

Origins of the letter

William’s letter was created mainly in response to the death of Scott S. Krueger ’01 last year. The letter that Williams sent out last year received quite a substantial response, and led to the continuation of the practice this year.