U. of Tenn. President Apologizes

Monday, July 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The president of the University of Tennessee says steps will be taken to strengthen policies dealing with student records, particularly those involving access and disclosure of information in those records.

The move comes after UT President J. Wade Gilley apologized to former football captain Spencer Riley for the public disclosure of his student records last fall. The apology was part of an agreement to dismiss Riley's federal lawsuit against the university.

Riley was among a handful of Tennessee football players named in a series of ESPN reports last fall alleging that tutors improperly completed work for student-athletes.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in May, Riley alleged that university employees illegally released student academic records. He sought a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan barring the release of any student's records outside the limits of federal and state laws.

The lawsuit has been settled. But in a letter Gilley wrote Riley on Thursday, the president wanted the former player to know that he ``will seek to renew and heighten awareness of the rules governing the confidentiality of student records.''

``On behalf of the University of Tennessee and its board of trustees, I apologize for the public disclosure of your student records last fall, and I sincerely regret any difficulty or embarrassment the disclosure may have caused you and your family,'' according to the letter The Knoxville News-Sentinel obtained from Gilley.

Riley's lawyers have filed for dismissal but asked the judge to dismiss the claims against English professor Linda Bensel-Meyers without prejudice, meaning they can be raised again.

Bensel-Meyers, who oversees some tutors, has maintained academic fraud is occurring at Tennessee, although a university investigation last year cleared the athletic department of plagiarism allegations.

The NCAA investigated the athletic department earlier this year and found no wrongdoing, but officials decided to return after other allegations were raised by Bensel-Meyers. A visit scheduled for May was postponed until the resolution of Riley's lawsuit. NCAA officials could not be reached over the weekend for comment.

Riley's lawsuit alleged Bensel-Meyers was one of the university employees who released his academic records to reporters, but she has denied the allegation.

Riley, 24, is at training camp with the Buffalo Bills, his lawyers said. He signed a free agent contract with the Bills earlier this year. He released a statement through his attorneys.

``The release of private academic information to ESPN.com reporter Tom Ferry and the resulting articles were embarrassing and humiliating,'' he wrote. ``People should not be judged by their learning disability but by the individual's qualifications. Everyone can make a contribution if they are given a chance.''

Gilley said an advisory notice will be issued to employees at the beginning of the fall semester reminding them of legal requirements applicable to student records and potential consequences of failing to comply with those requirements.

He said other preventive measures include cutting down on the number of people who have access to student records by defining who can and can't get them and making the employees specify why they need the information.