Ethical Teaching (FERPA)

Regardless of the code of ethics to which you subscribe, being ethical in your teaching requires that you anticipate problems that may arise as you teach and that you think about how you would respond to them.  Ultimately, your interaction with students is governed by University policy, but here are some precepts to consider.

Offer your students the intellectual and social tools they need to succeed in your class.  For example, if you want your students to write a research paper, make sure you assess their ability to gather and organize material and teach them the expectations for research in your discipline.  Similarly, if you want them to produce a group project, make sure you are clear about group members’ responsibilities to one another.  Not giving your students the skills to do the job only sets them up for failure.

Show you care about the success of all your students, not just those who consistently make brilliant comments or are particularly charismatic.  It is important you actively seek ways to pique the intellectual curiosity of all your students; this often means varying class topics, activities, and assessments.

Be a professional role model for your students.  You should demonstrate to students how professionals in your field address intellectual problems.  For example, if you are having your students solve a problem, you should show them how someone in your field does so.  As you approach the problem, articulate your thought processes.  Since peer review is standard practice in scholarly work, you might want to have your students assess each other’s performance.  In order to model appropriate professional relations, explain to any student who inappropriately derides teaching assistants, peers, and professors in your presence that this sort of criticism is not in keeping with the ideals of the scholarly community.

Maintain your students’ right to personal privacy.  Don’t ask students to reveal intimate details of their lives or sensitive demographic information about themselves to you or to their classmates.  This includes information about their socio-economic class, sexual history, and political affiliation, among other data.  Don’t assume that a student has given you permission to share the content of his or her work; do ask for permission to share a student’s work with the class. 

Maintaining students’ personal privacy is essential to respecting students’ feelings and their relationships with peers.  Be mindful of the power differential between you and your students.  Even though you may feel an affinity toward one or all of your students, this should not lead to friendships with students during the period in which the class is ongoing.  If you develop friendships with particular students, you may be perceived as playing favorites and may have difficulty assessing your friends’ academic performances.  These risks are increased significantly if the relationship is romantic.  Indeed, romantic involvement invites accusations of harassment.  The full text of the University’s policy on sexual relationships and professional conduct can be found in the next section.  On the other hand, you need not to be distant with your students. Your students value your attention, and you can be a good mentor if your interactions are centered on the course material.  There are times when students will have personal problems they want to discuss with you. 

It may be appropriate for you to address a student’s problem when it affects the student’s learning in class.  But in cases in which the problem is major, even if it does not seem to affect academic performance, you should immediately refer the student to an appropriate support service on campus, such as the Counseling Center.  For further details on the sexual harassment policy, see the University of Maryland Policy and Procedures on Sexual Harassment.  University Policies on Professional Behavior.  The University has codified a number of professional responsibilities (see Part V of this handbook).  A much more thorough index of University policies, Consolidated USMH and UMCP Policies and Procedures Manual, is available at www.president.umd.edu/policies/.

Sexual Relationships and Professional Conduct

University codes establish expectations for faculty and graduate students regarding conduct and professionalism.  For graduate students, The Graduate Catalog explains that “In their interactions with students, faculty, and all other members of the University community, teaching assistants are expected to conduct themselves with the same sensitivity and thoughtfulness that they expect to receive from others” (See www.gradschool.umd.edu/catalog/assistantship_policies.htm#7 for more information).  In the Faculty Handbook of Policies and Resources, the University of Mayrland Code on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion states that the University affirms its commitment to a policy of eliminating discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, personal appearance, age, physical or mental disability, political affiliation, or on the basis of the exercise of rights secured by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Academic Confidentiality

The University complies with the regulations set forth in the Buckley Amendment, which is a part of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  This amendment protects a student from the disclosure of personal and academic information to anyone other than the student, including parents, except under special circumstances.  Posting student grades with either student names or social security numbers, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited and exposes the University and the responsible faculty member to civil litigation.  Graded exams and papers should be returned to students individually, rather than left for retrieval outside of office doors.  Other “protected” information includes, but is not limited to, special requests, current and past course registrations, enrollment status, financial aid disbursements, billing history, and any disciplinary actions. 

The University conforms to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in order to maintain compliance with federal law and the Board of Regents policy.  The Board of Regents requires that all colleges and universities in the University System of Maryland protect student confidential education records and comply with federal and state laws, including definitions of “students” and “educational records.” 

In general, under FERPA guidelines you are not allowed to give out grades to students via email or phone except in cases 1) where you can clearly identify that the request is directly from a student; 2) where there is a signed and dated written consent from the student and his/her parent; 3) the student’s parents provide proof that the student is a dependent for federal tax purposes.  It is recommended that grades be transmitted through the UMEG system and ELMS, which protects student confidentiality.  Contact your department chair or faculty advisor if you have a parent who continues to ask for information regarding student performance.  See the University policy at www.president.umd.edu/policies/iii630a.html.  Undergraduate students who work with sensitive student data are required to complete the following tutorial on academic confidentiality: www.sis.umd.edu/ferpa/