The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, under pressure to release the student records of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, announced Friday that it has asked federal education officials to determine whether federal privacy law could be waived in the case.
Tsarnaev was a sophomore at the public university. Three former classmates have been charged with trying to hide evidence linking Tsarnaev to the bombings.
The university has denied requests for information about Tsarnaev’s grades and financial aid, citing federal law that prohibits the release of college records without student consent.
But on Friday, the university said that chancellor Divina Grossman had asked the US Department of Education whether an exception could be made.
“We recognize our obligation to be good stewards of public resources,” she said. “It is important that we do all that we can to learn from this experience by being honest with ourselves and as transparent as possible under the law.”
Grossman also announced that an independent task force would review university policies in light of the arrests, including financial and academic requirements for students.
Earlier this week, the Globe reported that Tsarnaev was attending UMass Dartmouth despite an outstanding bill of more than $20,000. In response, the college said that students can remain enrolled without full payment if loans and financial aid are expected to come through.
A university spokesman declined to discuss the Tsarnaev situation in particular, citing federal privacy law. But he said students in certain circumstances may continue their classes with significant bills for tuition and room and board.
Students who have “an outstanding bill in general would still be allowed to register if they can document extenuating circumstances,” said John Hoey, the university’s assistant chancellor for public affairs. “We monitor it throughout the year.”
An unpaid balance of $20,000 is unusual, Hoey acknowledged. “Most balances are relatively low.”
Delays in loan and financial aid distributions are the most typical reasons for an unpaid balance. Tsarnaev, a sophomore, may have told college officials he expected to receive the same financial aid package as he did his first year on campus.
For in-state students, UMass Dartmouth costs about $22,000 a year, including room and board.
Students facing financial difficulty are given the option to make smaller monthly payments, Hoey added.
He said that if loans or grants fail to materialize, the college would not allow a student to register for the next term.
University officials would not confirm that Tsarnaev owed the college $20,000, but several people briefed on his college record said the figure was accurate.
The accusations against Tsarnaev have prompted administrators to take a hard look at his time on campus, Hoey said.
Citing privacy laws, the university would not confirm a New York Times report that Tsarnaev had failed seven classes over three semesters or comment on whether he had been subject to any type of academic discipline.
Under university policy, any undergraduate who has a cumulative grade point average below 2.0 after two semesters will be placed on academic probation.
Students on probation for two straight semesters will be subject to dismissal.