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Syllabus Considerations: Reserving the right to cc others:
When responding to a student's email is it okay to cc others?
An instructor in an ASL program included the following statements in their syllabus:
----------------------------• I reserve the right to cc others on my email to you if I think they will be helpful to you.• I reserve the right to forward and/include people on campus as it relates to your grade(s), writing skills, and/or personal concerns for your safety, mine or others.----------------------------
It is easy to understand why an instructor might want to put such language into their syllabus. The instructor who included those statements most likely did so from hard won wisdom after one or more students expressed an issue in regard to email correspondence with the instructor being cc'ed to others without the instructor first asking for permission to do so from the student.
Instructors sometimes deal with a massive number of students and sometimes a student asks a question the answer to which would benefit the whole class and it would be expedient (as in save time and effort) for the instructor to simply reply to the question and cc the whole class.
Doing so probably helps many of the other students in class but the student asking the original question might feel a sense of betrayal of privacy.
An approach to avoiding a sense of betrayal of privacy is for the instructor to set expectations in the minds of students by removing an expectation of privacy regarding course-related emails by advising (or pre-warning) students that their email correspondence might be cc'ed to others.
There is a danger though because if a college instructor responds to a student's email and copies (cc's) others on that response, it could potentially violate FERPA.
A violation of FERPA will likely occur if a cc'ed email contains personally identifiable information from a student's education record and if the people copied do not meet one of the exceptions under the law (for instance, other school officials with legitimate educational interests).
In general FERPA allows an instructor to cc others if the instructor is simply answering a general question about course material.
FERPA becomes an issue when an email contains grade information, disciplinary information, or other details that are part of the student's educational record.
Instructors need to avoid claiming the right to cc others without noting any exceptions. In other words avoid claiming a broader right (to ignore the law and cc emails in general with no limitations) than the right instructors actually have (the more limited right to cc or forward qualified emails).
The following isn't legal advice but is simply a proposed approach for instructors to consider that might be a bit safer than making blanket statements:
"The instructor reserves the right to cc or forward emails to others if the instructor believes doing so may expedite service, provision of information, or resolution of issues -- to the extent that the content and recipients of the emails are allowable within the guidelines of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and any other applicable legal or university requirements."
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