Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who does the Office of General Counsel (GC) represent?
A: GC provides legal advice and representation to Kent State University. In that capacity, GC attorneys advise the Board of Trustees, Executive Officers, Faculty and Staff, all in their official capacities, on various legal issues impacting the University.
Q: What type of legal services does GC provide?
A: GC is responsible for providing a full range of legal services to the University. The attorneys work in a variety of practice areas including: labor and employment, business matters, contract review, litigation, copyright, property acquisitions, student and faculty issues, tax, constitutional law, among others. All GC attorneys also maintain the designation of Associate Attorney General for the state of Ohio.
Q: Can I obtain personal legal advice and services from a GC attorney?
A: No. The office provides legal services related to University business only. You can consult with a GC attorney regarding university legal matters related to your employment at the university; however, you are responsible for hiring your own attorney to handle personal legal matters. If you need help finding an attorney, the Portage County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service may be able to help. They can be reached at 330-296-6357. You can also contact Western Reserve Legal Services at 330-297-1569 to obtain personal legal advice and services.
Q: I am a student. Can I obtain legal advice and services from the GC office?
A: Not unless the legal matter is related to your employment at Kent State or a university-sponsored event or activity. The university does offer legal services to students through the Student Legal Services office at (330) 672-9550. Students must have paid an elective tuition fee to use the services. You can also contact Western Reserve Legal Services at 330-297-1569 to obtain personal legal advice and services.
Q: Does GC provide legal services to the Regional Campuses?
Q: My department has been served with a lawsuit. What should I do?
A: Contact GC immediately. By law, the university must respond to lawsuits within a specified time period after you are served. Therefore it is imperative that you notify GC as soon as you are served so we can review the matter and respond in a timely manner.
Q: I've been personally named as a defendant in a lawsuit related to my job. Will the university defend me?
A: It is the university's policy to defend and indemnify employees who become parties to legal proceedings by virtue of their good faith efforts to perform their responsibilities of employment. An employee personally named as a defendant in a lawsuit should contact GC immediately.
Q: I've been served with a subpoena. What should I do?
A: Contact GC immediately so a staff attorney can review it to determine the university's rights and responsibilities for compliance. Do not ignore a subpoena, even if it addresses something you are unfamiliar with or asks for documents you don't have. Failure to respond to a subpoena could result in you or the university being held in contempt of court.
Q: Are there any laws or university policies regarding student records?
A: Yes. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA or the Buckley Amendment) establishes rules and regulations regarding access to and disclosure of student records. Also, the University maintains a student records policy.
Q: What is a student record under FERPA?
A: FERPA defines "student record" to include all records maintained by the institution that directly relate to a current or former student. FERPA's broad definition of includes written, electronic, video, audio and photos. There are a few exceptions which include:
- An administrator or faculty member's own notes that are used only by that individual and are not shared with anyone else;
- Records that relate to the student as an employee;
- Medical, psychiatric or psychological records not shared with the institution;
- Records containing only information about a student after graduation, such as development or alumni records;
- Records maintained by the institution's law enforcement unit that were created by that unit for the purpose of law enforcement.
Q: Under what circumstances may I disclose the contents of a student's record without the student's consent?
A: Generally, a college or university who receives federal funding cannot disclose student records to anyone other than the student (including the student's parents), without the student's written permission. However, FERPA does establish several exceptions that allow the institution to disclose student records without the student's prior written consent. These exceptions are:
- To other school officials with a legitimate educational interest;
- To officials of other schools in which the student seeks to enroll;
- In connection with a student's application for, or receipt of, financial aid;
- If disclosure is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons;
- In response to a lawfully issued subpoena; (if you receive a subpoena requesting student records, you should notify our office immediately.)
- Directory information as defined.
Q: What is the Freedom of Information Act?
A: The Ohio public records law can be found in Ohio Revised Code Section 149.43. The law declares that all public records shall be made available for inspection. As a public institution, Kent State is subject to Ohio public records law. Consequently, any individual or organization has the right to inspect and/or receive copies of public records maintained by the university.
Q: What should I do if I receive a public records request for documents?
A: You should immediately contact GC at 330-672-2982; do not begin searching for or copying documents before talking to a staff member from UC.
Q: What is the definition of Personnel Record?
A: Generally, university employee personnel files are considered public records. Absent an expressly applicable exception, such as medical and student education records, nearly all of the records in a personnel file are a public record. However, social security numbers are protected from disclosure and should be redacted before the public records are released.
Q: Can anyone obtain a copy of my personnel file by making a public records request?
A. Individuals may inspect public records without cost. A University employee should be present when the public inspects the records. A reasonable copying fee may be charged to the individual requesting copies of the public record. Additionally, the public records act does not require the public office to make the copies.
Q: Is an employee entitled to review his/her personnel file?
A: Yes. Upon written request to the University, an employee may review his or her personnel file and make copies of the documents contained therein.
Q: Is the location of personnel documents relevant in determining whether they need to be disclosed when someone requests their personnel file?
A: No. The term personnel record is defined by law as explained above. We cannot exempt a document from disclosure merely by not placing it in a person's department or central university personnel file. If a document falls within the definition of "personnel record," which is quite broad, then it must be disclosed to the employee upon request, regardless of its physical location. Further questions about personnel files should be directed to GC and Human Resources Records at 330-672-2901.