Is it ever right for academics to reveal details to journalists about their former students?

This question’s back in my mind as I follow the Leveson Inquiry. I was once ‘phoned up by a celebrated UK-based investigative journalist while I worked as a lecturer at another London university journalism department. This journalist demanded to know background information about a student I had taught a couple of years previously who was now embroiled in a story involving one of his paper’s rival outfits. When I declined to provide any details or comments – he wanted to know the student’s grades and my thoughts on whether she was a ‘good’ student or not – he became verbally arrogant, citing ‘public interest’. The story was not in the public interest, and seemed to me to be point scoring between two rival media giants. He claimed he already had quotes from other academic colleagues, which was later denied by those parties. By now, he was lecturing me in a rather haughty fashion on how to be a journalism lecturer, citing how the story would be a ‘good case study’ for one of my ethics classes. Remaining composed despite the now booming barrage, I told him that I did not feel it either ethical or in the public interest for academics to start spouting personal details about their former students to journalists. What kind of message does that send to incoming students about the integrity of those to whom they entrust their funds and their futures?

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