The University Record, September 3, 1996

Note to readers:The University Recordwelcomes letters from members of the University community. Those on topics of broad University interest will be given preference for publication. Letters should be no more than 500 words in length and must be signed. The editorial staff reserves the right to reject any letter and to edit and/or condense letters for publication. Organizations submitting material must include the name and address of an appropriate officer. Letters must be received by noon Wednesday to receive consideration for publication in the next issue. Letters that are chosen for publication will appear under the "LETTERS" section of theThe University Record Online. Send submissions to: The University Record 412 Maynard St. Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1399Top of Page  |  This issue's Articles  |  Front Page of CURRENTUniversity Record

LETTERS 

Alums should have more say in release of personal information
In June, the University of Michigan Alumni Association distributed a letter to alumni announcing its intention to publish the first "All-University Alumni Directory." Two printed editions and a CD-ROM version are to be produced and sold. A plan to make the equivalent material available on the Internet is also under consideration. The letter put recipients on notice that they had just about 10 days to respond with requests for alterations or deletions of entries. Those who ignored the letter would be listed automatically.

The project raises unsettling questions about University data security and introduces an alarming potential for invasion of privacy. No explicit authorization is required from the listed individuals before any of the publications are issued. And the goal is to sell these surveillance records about all alumni, not simply those who are members of the Association.

The University's guidelines governing the use of information resources (Standard Practice Guide 601.7) specifically state that personal data will not be divulged "without explicit authorization to do so." The Alumni Association apparently does not regard itself as being covered by this code of practice. Its staff members describe the June letter as an offer to be included in the directory, whereas it actually provides a brief opportunity to be excluded---the exact reverse of the guidelines.

The Alumni Records Office, which administers the all-alumni database, adheres to a much stricter privacy code, for example, by refusing to answer general public inquiries about individual records. Various privacy options can be applied to database entries---"no further contact requested" for example. However, the Alumni Association adopts a policy of not revealing such options to alumni, Association members or otherwise.

In any case, it's not clear that individuals requesting no further contact by the University would necessarily be excluded from tracking data marketed by the Association. In fact, the no-contact policy could actually prevent them from being informed of the anticipated distribution at all!

My own situation actually raises serious questions about the general privacy of current student data at the University. I was to be included in the directory, although I had not yet graduated. Hence, it would have listed me as having no Michigan degree at all! Neither the Alumni Records Office nor the Alumni Association could explain how current student data had prematurely leaked into the database.

I believe that the majority of students who consented to University data collection about themselves did so in the full faith that it would be held responsibly and treated in an honorable fashion. Many might agree that it was okay to use the information to aid in the mission of the institution. However, virtually indiscriminate marketing of such tracking data was probably not what they had in mind. How would they react if the Alumni Association started peddling an "All-Alumni Surveillance Directory?"

Maybe if we start thinking of our use of personal databases in such terms, we'll handle them more responsibly.

John Murray Ph.D. '96 Educational programming is the right direction for WUOM
Regarding the changes that are being made at Michigan Radio, I only hope that they are regressive enough to return it to the days when education was dominant in programming.

I am pleased with the direction that Mr. Reynolds is taking Michigan Radio---pleased enough that I am going to rejoin the stations as a regular listener.

Leroy Davis, retired electronics
technician, Canton

News coverage, new programs justify shift from classical format
I support the changes Mr. Donovan Reynolds brought to WUOM. I stopped listening, and contributing, to the station because another public radio station provided better news coverage and analysis. A three-time graduate of U-M, I found myself sending my contributions to a station in East Lansing.

Three stations in my listening area provided a "mostly classical" format, so I found no good reason to support Michigan Radio more than another station. Now, extended news coverage and programs like "Fresh Air" more than justify, in my view, WUOM's shift away from a "classical-dominant" format.

These changes have made me return to WUOM, both as a listener and as a contributor.

Paul O'Donnell, associate professor of foreign languages, U-M Flint

Citizens unhappy with WUOM changes can sign petition
Donovan Reynolds' response (Aug. 13 Record) to an earlier open letter from me (July 23 Record) is more notable for what it doesn't say than for any light that it sheds on the concerns that I expressed.

Never does he tell us how he had four employees RIFed (Reduction in Force) and managed to hire a direct replacement of one of them at higher pay and then had the RIFed person teach the newly hired one how to use the station's equipment!

I have been assured, not by Mr. Reynolds but by others, that all procedures detailed by the University's Standard Practice Guide were followed in this case. This is to me even more alarming, since that means that neither Vice President Walter Harrison nor anyone from Human Resources/Affirmative Action stopped this injustice. In fact, both must have aided in carrying out what Mr. Reynolds refers to as "exciting changes" at Michigan Radio. It clearly demonstrates that University policy often gives the appearance of protecting staff while allowing those higher up to carry out their agenda.

Instead Mr. Reynolds attempts to divert our attention by commenting on the "angry" tone of my open letter and asserting that this was "in marked contrast to the public statements of the four employees themselves." There were no public comments---only Mr. Brennan had made an admittedly neutral comment in the Ann Arbor News. Perhaps Mr. Reynolds had foreknowledge of the comments of Mr. Greenquist in the Ann Arbor News of Aug. 20 describing WUOM's treatment of him as cynical?

In general, Mr. Reynolds' statements regarding the format change have been obscuring and evasive for someone who wants the stations to specialize in news and information programming and, thus, one might reasonably conclude, is an expert in this area. An example is the statement, "From the beginning I have said to the staff and the public that increased news and information programming is probably (my emphasis) the key to the station's future success." This is not quite the same as firing four broadcast producers and stopping all local production of music programs. Yet Mr. Reynolds implies that the statement and the actions are equivalent. Now that's news to me.

Where is M-Quality when we really need it? According to the Ann Arbor News of Aug. 20, the station received 81 letters against the format change and 7 in support. Yet Mr. Reynolds says he wants to increase the number of listeners. Since the opposite appears to be happening, a new group, Citizens and Alumni to Take Back University of Michigan Public Radio, is circulating a petition to be presented to the Regents. The petition asks the Regents to reverse Mr. Reynolds' "exciting changes." Failing this, it asks that the station return listener contributions to those whom it has misled and defrauded.

Copies of the petition may be obtained from CATBUMPER Box 3280 Ann Arbor, MI 48106. (Or from me, Helmut Schick, senior engineering technician, Department of Physics and Radiation Oncology). They mayalso be signed at SKR Classical, 995-5051, 539 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (near the Michigan Theater).

Helmut Schick, senior engineering technician