The University Record, September 10, 1996
Editor's Note: The following letter is in response to one from John Murray, a recent graduate, whose letter appeared in the Sept. 3 issue of the Record.
Thank you for taking the time to let us know how you feel about our upcoming alumni directory. While I agree with many of the issues raised in your letter, I must take exception to the premise upon which it appears to have been written---that our actions are based on an aggressive marketing strategy and therefore with an implied profit motivation.
You should know that the only reason we publish a directory is as a service to our members. Our last directory, published in 1993, sold over 10,000 copies, and alumni are still interested in purchasing it now, even though the information is three years old. I think that is a testament to how valuable a service it is. Also, it is important to point out that despite selling over 10,000 copies, we did not receive any compensation, and the same is true about this current directory project. Thus our motive in doing so is clearly not financial.
You raise very legitimate issues regarding the privacy of this personal data. If alumni truly want a directory, as evidenced above, then one can only wonder what they intend to do with it. Based on the contact we have with alumni asking about the availability of a directory, it seems their intention is primarily to track down lost classmates. While I realize that it is relatively easy to scan the directory into an electronic file to use as a mailing list, to my knowledge that has only happened once and, when contacted, the offender was very apologetic and agreed to stop immediately. I can't draw any conclusions from that, but I would assume that if it happened with much frequency, I would hear about it.
I understand and agree with your statement that we should ask those who want to be included to let us know, rather than asking those who wish to be excluded to communicate that to us. Unfortunately, the practical constraint is that the correspondence from the 200,000-plus alumni who want to be included in this directory would be simply unmanageable. In addition, we can give very personal attention to ensure that we exclude the several hundred alumni who have indicated that they do not want to be listed.
I also understand and share your concerns regarding publication of information on the Internet. For that reason, two decisions were made long ago: 1) we will only include information about those alumni who return their questionnaires, and 2) we will not publish this information until we (and representatives of the University's Information Technology Division) are satisfied with the security mechanisms developed by Publishing Concepts. These security mechanisms include authenticated web page access and restrictions on downloading/printing of the data.
However, there are a number of reasons, such as making a gift to the University, that could cause a student to appear in the database. I cannot respond directly to your question regarding your inclusion in the alumni database prior to receiving your degree. As you correctly point out, the Alumni Association utilizes, but does not create or maintain, the information in the alumni database.
Thank you again for expressing your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments.
Steve C. Grafton, executive
Alumni Association of the University of Michigan