Author Jon Krakauer Requests Records Again – Decision Headed to Montana Supreme Court
The office of the Commissioner of Higher Education is returning to the Montana Supreme Court to appeal a district judge's ruling ordering it to release information on any action the commissioner took after Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson appealed a university court recommended he be expelled over a rape complaint. If they do, the university could lose all its federal funding…including Pell grants and student aid.
"Essentially what it boils down to is the university system is in court because we have been sued for student records that we are not, at least at this time, authorized to publish or to release in any manner if such records exist," Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae said. "The United States government has told the Montana University System that we are to provide Mr. [Jon] Krakauer with nothing in response to his request for student information."
On Monday, Helena Attorney Mike Meloy said Krakauer and the defendants submitted a joint document to the district court that affirms the judge's order and also addresses fees. The Missoulian reports in September, Helena District Judge Kathy Seeley ordered the commissioner of higher education to allow Krakauer to inspect the documents he had requested for his most recent book, "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town." McRae said the agency already is taking steps to again ask the court to address the matter of the records release.
"The United States Department of Education and the United States government is not overly concerned with what the prior state ruling was. They're position is if there is any conflict between state law and federal law, that the federal law is controlling," McRae said. "If the United State government and the U.S. Department of Education find a state or university in violation of federal student privacy laws, under express federal law is the removal of federal funds."
The largest source of federal funding for Montana colleges and universities is the acceptance of student federal financial aid such as Pell grants—something as simple as students getting their foot in the door to be able to afford college. McRae said Krakauer has been explained this concept before, but implies that the federal government would never remove federal funds for violating federal law.