Providing references for students seeking employment or admission to graduate school is an important professional responsibility for academic advisors. Like other responsibilities, there are legal implications of which academic advisors should be aware. First, advisors should be aware that both written and oral communications regarding a particular student's work or suitability for employment/ graduate school should be considered confidential. You are, perhaps, all aware that under the Buckley Amendment students can waive their right to obtain recommendations completed on their behalf, but they are not obligated to do so. Advisors, on the other hand, must safeguard students' privacy rights. They have no authority to disseminate student records or other confidential matter regarding a student without the permission of the student. Of course, both oral and written recommendations, like all confidential material, may only be disclosed to those authorized by the student to receive the recommendation.
Students are obliged to ask advisors to serve as a reference and advisors should not do so until a student makes such a request. If an employer contacts an advisor for a reference and the student in question has not asked the advisor, the advisor should first consult with the student before offering a recommendation. Once a student requests a reference (written or oral), the advisor can provide a recommendation without fear of breaching a student's privacy rights. Academic advisors should use discretion, however, and not disclose the specific contents of educational records (grades, for example) without a student's approval.
It is recommend that students and advisor discuss a recommendation frankly at the time the student first seeks an advisors assistance. The student should be aware of the nature of the recommendation. If a student finds the recommendation will be unfavorable, the student can withdraw the request and approach other possible references.
When students apply to graduate schools, they typically present a staff member with a recommendation form that includes a statement on confidentiality and a waiver that students may sign. University Career Services recommends that students seeking recommendations for jobs follow similar procedures.