Jan 162010
 
Authors: Jim Sojourner

Before senior history major Brady Allen stumbled across CSU’s online directory a few weeks ago, he had no idea that, with just a couple keystrokes, anyone with a computer could pull up his phone number, e-mail and off-campus address.

CSU’s “Find People” directory, which anyone can access through the university’s Web site, provides interested people with the full name, school year and major, phone number, e-mail address and home address of any CSU student or employee just by typing in a partial name — a fact that Allen said stunned and disturbed him.

In a random, unscientific poll where Collegian reporters called students listed on the directory, 67 out of 100 students surveyed did not know their information is available online.

“When I first saw it, I was surprised as hell,” he said. “If you want your information out there, that’s great. But your name and info should not be posted automatically. I know for me, it was a shock to find my info on there as it was.”

Sandy Calhoun, the director for CSU’s Registrar’s Office, which maintains the directory, said her office provides the directory purely as a beneficial service for the CSU community to “be helpful.”

No one has ever submitted a criticism or complaint about the information listed, she said, and the office hopes students will inform it if they are unhappy with the service.

Allen, who transferred to CSU from the Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, said his old school had an entire paperwork process for looking up student information, and he expressed concern that the directory offers this information to everyone — which includes Fort Collins’ 190 registered felony sex offenders.

“Having that much personal information is a danger to one’s safety alone, especially when you consider how many sex offenders are present in Fort Collins,” Allen said. “Not to mention the scams and junk mail that it makes people vulnerable to.”

Valerie Eiferle, a sophomore French major, said she likes the general idea behind the directory, but doesn’t understand why student information is so easily accessible.

“In the past, I have used it to get a hold of professors, and it’s useful,” Eiferle said. “However, I never would have OK’d it if I knew it would put an address on there.”

Junior sociology major Dylan Gallacher said he too is torn between the convenience the directory provides and the idea that just anyone can look up his personal information.

“As an employee of SLiCE, we use it to keep our e-mail contact list accurate, so it’s great for that,” he said. “Yet, it is a valid complaint by students for their safety. Frankly, it makes me uneasy that some random person can find my off-campus address this way.”

Easy access, easy removal

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act gives student control over their academic records and bars colleges and universities from releasing that information. But the law has little purview over much other personal information, including contact information, years attended, honors and awards and place and date of birth.

Each school has the discretion to select certain elements of that information to compile public student directories, Calhoun said. The only restriction is that the institutions must notify students and parents if that information will be disclosed and offer them adequate time to opt out.

Despite how easy it is to access information, university spokesperson Jennifer Dimas said removing it is equally as simple.

CSU allows students to withhold e-mail addresses when they first register with the university by checking a box on the registration forms, Calhoun said. But to keep all their information off the Web site, students have to visit the Registrar’s Office and fill out special form. They can do this at any time.

After finding his information online, Allen had his name removed, a process he said was as easy as Dimas described. But, he said he doesn’t remember being given the opportunity to keep his information off of the database when he registered for the first time after transferring last summer.

“I honestly do not recall seeing anything about having my name taken off the directory or not having it put on altogether when I registered,” Allen said. “I feel as if I would have noticed something of that importance.”

While she said students definitely do have the option to keep their information off the site when they first register, Calhoun said she agrees that students might often miss the option during the confusion of registration.

“I can easily see how the whole spectacle of registering can cause one to overlook the directory agreement portion,” she said. “That means we must do a better job of letting students know it’s there.”

Peer institutions use variety of different models

While many of CSU’s peer institutions do maintain their own directories, the standards they use to determine what information can be made public and how it should be presented differ markedly across the board.

Tammy Aagard, the University of Wyoming’s registrar, said her school utilized a public, online directory system comparable to CSU’s a few years ago, and ran into complaints similar to Allen’s.

“I remember many of our students began calling it stalkweb for the amount of information that was available to anyone,” Aagard said.

Since then, Wyoming decided to move its directory to the confines of the university’s student portals, which, Aagard said, garnered the support of Wyoming’s student government, administration and students. Only students with a university issued identification number and password can access the school’s student portals, which are the equivalent of CSU’s RamCT or RamWeb.

Wyoming students can also determine exactly what pieces of information they make public.

CU-Boulder, the University of Northern Colorado, Iowa State University and Kansas State University all operate systems that are similar to CSU’s, but CU only lists the name and e-mail address of students and ISU only lists their home city and state, not a full address.

Associate registrar for KSU Gunile DeVault said his school’s approach to the directory is straightforward, easy on the school maintenance-wise and protects the student information.

“Due to new guidelines within FERPA pertaining to identity theft, we give the students the final say if their information is public or concealed,” he said in a phone interview. “However we have an all-or-nothing policy. Students may not pick and choose what is and isn’t public.”

Calhoun said CSU might pursue Wyoming’s student-portal resolution to student complaints about the directory.

“I could see us moving the directory into a student-only accessible platform such as RamWeb,” she said. “We would have to look into the possibilities of it first.”

If the university were to pursue such a model, Calhoun said students would have the option semester-to-semester of making their information available, and Eiferle said that type of solution would, at least, make her feel better.

“The fact that they might change it to only have students access it through their student accounts seems way safer,” she said.

Allen agreed.

“I could understand if it were available through RamCT or any other student-only applications,” Allen said. “But the way it is right now, anyone can access your personal phone number, your e-mail address and even your home address, that just doesn’t seem right to me.”

Vince Crespin contributed to this report

News Editor Jim Sojourner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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