uofa
University of Arizona Refuses to Release Records on Student Bias Complaint System

July 26, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

The University of Arizona (UArizona) denied a reporter’s public records request concerning complaints received by its bias complaint system for students. 

The reporter, Christian Schneider with The College Fix, submitted the records request last August. UArizona had no issue fulfilling a similar 2019 request for its bias complaint system. Overseeing the reporting system is the Bias Education & Support Team (BEST), which falls under the Dean of Students’ jurisdiction. 

The Goldwater Institute, Phoenix-based public policy research and litigation organization, took up Schneider’s case. Last week, the organization requested that UArizona fulfill the records request. 

UArizona Public Records Coordinator Kim Fassl claimed to Schneider that they denied his latest request based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as well as Arizona court precedents upholding record denials to ensure individual privacy and the state’s best interests.

“The production of these records could cause a chilling effect among future complainants and the University,” wrote Fassl. 

The previous public records coordinator that fulfilled Schneider’s 2019 request, Teri Bentson, raised none of the objections issued by Fassl. The change in perspective may have to do with the connection between Fassl and one of the six women in charge of BEST: the “Core Team.”

Prior to handling public records requests, Fassl was the associate director of residential education for student behavioral education. One of BEST’s Core Team, Nina Pereira, serves as the director of residential education, which oversees behavioral education. It appears that Fassl was Pereira’s subordinate. Neither Pereira and Fassl responded to a request for comment.

Fassl has also served as a member of the UArizona Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT). Similarly to BEST, BIT has a referral form to report concerning student behaviors.

In their letter petitioning for the fulfillment of Schneider’s request, the Goldwater Institute contended that both Arizona and federal court precedent determined redaction of identifying information was sufficient for FERPA adherence. The organization added that Schneider allowed for redactions in his initial request, too. 

UArizona launched BEST in October 2020 amid the racialized protests and riots initiated by George Floyd’s death less than five months before. 

BEST’s Core Team has remained the same since its launch. In addition to Pereira, there’s Veda Kowalski, assistant dean of students; Beverly Perez-Mercado, organizational development specialist within the Office of Learning & Organizational Development; Judy Marquez Kiyama, associate vice provost; Whitney Mohr, civil rights investigator within the Office of Institutional Equity; and Jane Pizzolato, director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. 

Kiyama also serves as an equity consultant for the Ada Center and Strong Start to Finish. She’s also involved with the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Development Institute (CRCDI), which represents eight colleges. Culturally Responsive Education (CRE), also known as Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), is synonymous with Critical Race Theory (CRT). 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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