The University Record, July 30, 1997

Balance of access, privacy a concern

By Theresa Hofer
Information Technology Division

The explosive growth of electronic networks is forcing university administrators nationwide to perform a delicate balancing act. On one hand is the need for improved access to important data. On the other, the need to protect the privacy of students, faculty and staff.

CAUSE, the association for managing and using information resources in higher education, has been especially concerned with helping its members deal with these issues. It recently published "Privacy and the Handling of Student Information in the Electronic Networked Environments of Colleges and Universities." This white paper is the work of a task force co-chaired by Virginia Rezmierski, ITD director of policy development and education, and Susan Ferencz, past director of policy and planning at Indiana University, and was produced in cooperation with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

The task force gathered input from students and other representatives of 45 schools and colleges. According to Rezmierski, task force members represented varied perspectives and found much to debate. "This was one of those important creative events," Rezmierski says, "where a group of knowledgeable people with diverse opinions came together and ultimately formed a joint statement that not only represented values and principles, but also spelled out a process. It was a wonderful challenge."

Rather than prescribe a privacy policy for universal adoption, the task force chose to identify the challenges and opportunities of technology advances. It then described eight primary principles of fair information practice, as well as laws affecting each principle and examples of greater and lesser applications of the principle. (See below for more details.) Finally, the task force recommended a process whereby a full spectrum of campus constituencies can be involved in discussions that will lead to a better understanding of campus culture and values with regard to the principles.

"Many of us on the task force would have liked to have been more prescriptive regarding 'best' policies and practices," Rezmierski says. "However, we all agreed that each college and university, based on its own community values, needed to debate these issues and engage in policy development and education."

CAUSE has distributed the white paper to its more than 1,400 member campuses and organizations and has created an electronic discussion list for anyone interested in discussing these issues. For copies of the paper or more information, see the CAUSE Web site at For more information about privacy and the handling of student information at the U-M, call 647-4274 or send e-mail to

Task force identifies fair practice, policy

These principles of fair information practice and policy were identified by the task force: