Friday, October 15, 2004 NewsFlash - Auburn University debates e-mail monitoring policy

Snagged from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, this article details a proposed policy at Auburn to monitor e-mail and the inevitable privacy concerns this brings up. The article mentions only employee email accounts: I wonder if there's a similar policy for students? And what of graduate students, who are often students and employees simultaneously, or undergrads who also work for the university (as RAs, for example, or in the libraries, or in other capacities via work-study programs)? Also, though not emphasized, the article also mentions the monitoring of "Internet access," a completely different, but equally concerning, bit of policy.

Here's a quote that sums up part of the concern with the policy:

However, the proposal immediately set off concerns regarding privacy and civil liberties. Some faculty thought it might give upper-level administrators the ability to monitor those on campus deemed malcontents or activists.

As a former academic union organizer, boy, do I understand this concern!!


As interim associate dean of libraries, Straiton said he was aware of provisions within post-9/11 legislation that require libraries to release a patron's records without their consent.

He said such legislation, along with the fact that AU computers are frequently serviced by workers who may view private information inadvertently, makes it impossible to guarantee privacy.

During my travels thorough three different large, public, land-grant institutions, I have known people who refused to use their school e-mail addresses for any communications not explicitly connected with work or school, and who refused to post any materials on campus servers or connect via a campus network, modem pool, etc. It's fears of policies like this that produce such reactions, and it's really sad that institutions of intellectual pursuit and supposed academic freedom inspire such reactions among their faculty, staff, and students (whether those reactions are justified or not). One of the AU administrators is quotes as saying that the policy isn't an attempt to play Big Brother, but it's easy to see why employees may interpret the policy as such.

- posted by laurie @ 10/15/2004 10:38:00 AM
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