Privacy violation complaint filed against professor

After adjunct philosophy and German Professor Brian Elliott made grades visible to the entire class and introduced a new syllabus in the middle of winter term, a student in his German 441 course filed a complaint with the administration.

After adjunct philosophy and German Professor Brian Elliott made grades visible to the entire class and introduced a new syllabus in the middle of winter term, a student in his German 441 course filed a complaint with the administration.

The complaint, filed by graduate student Jeffrey Van Dien, outlines fourteen grievances against Elliott.

“He constantly insults students,” Van Dien wrote in his complaint. “[Elliot] labeled students who complained to the administration as ‘…people who are hell-bent on being a pain in the ass.'”

According to Van Dien, in early March Elliot posted the final winter term grades on Blackboard so that each students’ grade was visible to all.

Scott Gallagher, director of communications for Portland State, spoke on behalf of Elliott and the administration.

“Elliott made a mistake,” Gallagher said. “He apologized to the class; we are informing him of the privacy laws and making sure it doesn’t happen again. He was unaware and we made sure he understood.”

The initial concern about grades being visible has been dealt with, Gallagher said, but other complaints are still being investigated.

“We take all student complaints seriously,” he said.

Elliott said that he was advised by the Office of University Communications not to speak about the incident.

“The statement is out there. I’m not going to elaborate,” Elliott said.

Van Dien’s contact with the administration began on Feb. 12 when he met with Jennifer Perlmutter, chair of the Department of World Languages, after Elliott introduced a new syllabus on Feb. 4.

In addition, Van Dien took screenshots of the Blackboard message and submitted the images to Perlmutter and Melody Rose, vice provost for Academic Affairs and Instruction.

According to Van Dien, Perlmutter’s e-mailed response was “not serious.” She said that Elliott, originally from the United Kingdom, was unaware of United States privacy laws, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which holds that educational records cannot be released without consent.

Attorney Kevin Brague of Tigard, Ore., whom Van Dien consulted, said that FERPA violations are not grounds for litigation and that PSU took the proper course.

“Under FERPA, there is not private right of action,” he said. “You can’t sue a public school for a FERPA violation. It’s what we sometimes refer to as a law with no teeth.”

After further meetings with administrators and faculty—including College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Grant Farr, Professor William Fischer, CLAS Assistant Dean Robert Mercer and CLAS Dean Marvin Kaiser—Van Dien brought a statement of formal grievances to a spring break summit that included Rose and Carol Mack, vice provost for Academic Personnel and Leadership Development.

All administrators mentioned declined to comment.

Student August Benzon also presented at the meeting. Benzon claimed that Elliott baited him with a better grade on the final exam if Benzon didn’t complain to administration about the initial course assignment, which was negated after it was graded.

“I’ve never heard of a grade disappearing off the syllabus,” Benzon said. “[Elliott] said he’d be more flexible if I didn’t  complain.”

Benzon said that the administrators at the meeting responded to he and Van Dien well.

“They definitely seemed to say, from their facial expression, that they took it seriously,” he said.

But Van Dien was disappointed with the university’s official response to his complaints.

“They ignored the issue and downplayed it,” Van Dien said.

Benzon filed an academic appeal after receiving a B+ in the course. He said that he’d completed all the course work, while students who hadn’t fulfilled the requirements received higher grades than he did. He knows this because of Elliott’s Blackboard message.

“On the surface, [Elliot]’s a very nice guy,” Benzon said. “If you don’t position yourself as a troublemaker, he gives you a good grade.”

 Student Jared Meador said that he didn’t experience the problems with Elliott that Van Dien and Benzon did.

“[German 441] wasn’t terribly different from other classes I’ve had,” Meador said. “There was some change of the syllabus, but it was made an option. If you wanted, you could stay with the older setup.”

In addition to the academic appeal and the university’s investigation, Elliott is undergoing a copyright investigation pursuant to a student contacting the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) about allegedly unauthorized texts that Elliott posted on Blackboard.

A CCC spokesperson confirmed that the company’s legal team is looking into the case.

This term, Elliot is teaching a German critical theory course. ?