University of Vermont to turn over records of hazing probe

Monday, January 3, 2000

University of V...
University of Vermont hockey team salutes fans before game against Ohio State in Burlington, Vt., on Dec. 29. It was first home game since allegations of hazing were filed against team members.

A Vermont state judge has ordered the University of Vermont to release some records related to an investigation of an alleged hazing incident by the school's hockey team.

Washington Superior Court Judge Alden Bryan said many details of the alleged hazing incident at the Montpelier campus had already been made public through daily news reports, a formal complaint and a federal lawsuit. Bryan determined that the release of some of the records wouldn't further violate the privacy rights of any students involved.

The university began its investigation last September soon after officials learned about allegations of hazing on the hockey team. Last October, one player filed a formal complaint with the university. A second player, Corey Latulippe, 19, filed a federal lawsuit last December, claiming that other players forced him to participate in hazing rituals that included sexual improprieties, drinking and other misconduct.

The Burlington Free Press learned of the university's investigation and, in November, requested a series of records.

The university declined, saying the release of such records would violate the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“As required by federal privacy laws, UVM cannot release specific information about findings, violations and sanctions, but as we have indicated, disciplinary action was taken,” Thomas Gustafson, vice president for university communications, said in a Dec. 11 statement.

“We recognize that a number of serious questions are being raised about this situation and UVM's handling of it,” Gustafson wrote. “It is our intention to fully assess, evaluate and learn from the very difficult problems we are grappling with today.”

When university officials declined to release the documents, the Free Press filed suit in Washington County Superior Court.

In part, the newspaper noted that a 1998 amendment to the educational privacy act specifically permits schools to disclose student disciplinary records including the names of students found to have violated school rules when the incidents involve violence or a sex offense.

The judge, in his Dec. 15 decision, agreed.

“The allegations on their face suggest, if not actual force, unspecified threats amounting to unwelcome persuasion involving underage drinking, sexual acts, and nudity, some of which would rise to the felony level if detected by the police,” Bryan wrote.

Bryan ordered the university to release 12 of 19 documents he reviewed. But he ordered that the names of individual players be deleted first.

Mickey Hirten, executive editor of the Free Press, said the paper was more interested in examining the university's actions than reporting which students did what to whom.

“We were interested in the larger issues rather than the particulars,” Hirten said. “Criminal behavior is not (protected as part of) an educational record. Criminal behavior on campuses is a matter of broad public concern. The judge agreed with that.”

Bryan said the documents he ordered released contain details already publicized through Latulippe's lawsuit.

“Those to be disclosed reveal little about the students themselves but largely detail the actions UVM has taken since the student's lawyer, Gail Westgate, made her initial complaint to UVM officials in September 1999,” Bryan wrote.

In a statement, university President Judith Ramaley said school officials would comply with the order. In the meantime, Ramaley said the university would assist state Attorney General William Sorrell in an independent investigation of the incident.