January 23, 2008

Student Gadfly Accuses Central Michigan Ombuds

In October 2007, a Central Michigan University junior, Dennis Lennox, mounted a campaign to force a Democratic congressional candidate out of a prestigious faculty job. The politically conservative student was later charged with violating university policy for improperly distributing literature on campus. In the latest development, Lennox has accused the CMU Ombuds, Susan Rademacher, of "sharing the contents of their conversation that he had with her" with the Dean of Students. A local conservative publication political blog has urged readers to contact Rademacher to complain and provided her email address. (ABC News; OutsideLansing.com; The Provocatuer.)

At best, the complaint against Rademacher appears to be based on vague hearsay. There is no explanation of how Lennox learned that Rademacher allegedly spoke to the Dean of Students or what was communicated. Indeed one leaked email indicates that Lennox and Rademacher never met. Unfortunately, the IOA Code and Standards preclude Rademacher from offering any information in her own defense. Hopefully a hearing later this month will clarify matters, including the role of the Ombuds.


  1. This is Michael Volpe, of the Provocateur. The charges against Radamacher are NOT vague.

    Lennox learned of her improper correspondence with other university officials because he saw a copy of an email from her to another professor revealing the contents of their conversation.

  2. I don't think the characterization of the incident is accurate.

    In your post, Tom, you write "Lennox has accused the CMU Ombuds," but fail to document a source where is alleging this occurred.

    From what I can tell, the nonpartian, statewide OutsideLansing.com political blog alleges that the CMU Ombuds Officer violated the student's privacy. The blog published internal e-mails, which appear to be legitimate.

    This would appear to be a violation not only of FERPA, but also internal CMU policies.

  3. FERPA does not preclude college administrators from sharing info about a student. That was one of the lessons from the Virginia Tech tragedy.

  4. This is Chetly Zarko of OutsideLansing.com. I just picked this up off a technorati search.

    The lawyer is probably right - FERPA doesn't prevent internal need-to-know sharing of information, but ironically CMU is citing FERPA as a blanket reason for keeping its mouth zipped on this case (which is just standard op for universities) which creates a logical dilemma (particular for the story I broke where professors were using internal e-mail to slander Lennox by saying he might be the next "Virginia Tech" shooter). FERPA is an abused statute by universities - used to justify withholding more than it covers (it only covers "educational records", not any material conceivably related to a student, which is the interpretation FOIA officers try to proffer) when convenient for universities, and discarded when not.

    Regardless, the crux of the Ombuds issue is that the Ombuds, based on very specific e-mail I published (which you linked to here).

    You draw the conclusion from that e-mail that the student and Ombuds "never met" - that's true regarding the one meeting mentioned in the e-mail. But the e-mail exchange is deeper than that - the investigator asks the Ombuds for information regarding the content of their conversations, and the Ombuds replies (in the negative) that their conversations never included discussions about that content (because the meeting didn't occur and also in other apparent meetings).

    I don't know what the code of ethics for Ombuds' is, but I'd expect it to be that discussing the content of a conversation is off-limits except in rare circumstances.