III.9. Management of Records

As a public university, NIU is accountable under the laws of the State of Illinois regarding the management of state records. This includes the protection of confidential personnel records, including both faculty and staff employment and student educational records, and the proper storage and disposal of any and all records made in the transaction of university, college, or department business. Federal law may also apply.

  • Storage and access. To maximize the protection of confidential records of any kind, the preferred storage method is a double-lock” system, in which the records are kept in locked file cabinets or similar containers in locations (e.g., offices, rooms) that are also locked. Access to records is on a need-to-know” basis only. University officials and employees must have a legitimate university-related educational or administrative interest and a need to review a record in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities. Neither may they disclose information to anyone who does not need that information to do her or his job at the University. Needless to say, unauthorized browsing through records in any form, hard copies or computer files, is not allowed.
  • Faculty personnel records. Pursuant to the Illinois Personnel Record Review Act 820 ILSC 40/.0, faculty members have the right to access their own personnel files, but are asked to give reasonable notice of their intent to do so. They have a right to copy materials in their personnel file at their own expense; however, they may not remove any materials from their personnel files. Faculty viewing their personnel files will do so in the presence of one administrator. No materials will be placed in the faculty member's personnel files without the faculty member receiving a copy or notice that material is being added. Special procedures apply for some types of records. See the full policy statement at Protocols for Personnel Files.
  • Disposal of records. The management of all university records, regardless of physical form or characteristic,” is regulated by the State Records Act (5 ILSC 160/1). While much of the State Records Act will not concern department chairs, the disposal of any university records is regulated by the state. Cleaning out old file drawers may seem to be a simple good-housekeeping practice; however, the State Records Act protects against the unauthorized disposal (e.g., mutilation, damage, transference, removal) of records made in the course of public duties,” regardless of date. The Illinois Secretary of State’s Office provides instructions for applying for authorization on its official website.
  • Student records and FERPA. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that affords students over the age of 18 the right to have access to their children’s education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records. Prior to age 18, this right is afforded to the students parents. FERPA-related issues are a common part of department management for the chair. Familiarity with the law before an issue emerges is highly recommended. The U.S. Department of Education website contains detailed information about FERPA. See also Section VI Students.
  • Freedom of Information Act. On rare occasions, the department chair may receive a request for confidential information from a party who has evoked the Freedom of Information Act – Illinois. If this occurs, inform the college dean and contact NIU’s Chief Legal Counsel for guidance. And, again, have a working knowledge of what the law covers and does not cover in these circumstances.