Admission defines employee Internet policy

by Beacon Staff • February 2, 2006

The policy extends the code of conduct in the student handbook to include material that Admission employees post on Internet communities or personal pages.,Online communities, including the Facebook, a popular site among college students, are the subjects of a new policy at the Office of Admission.

The policy extends the code of conduct in the student handbook to include material that Admission employees post on Internet communities or personal pages. The handbook protects rights to student "privacy of personal information" and bars verbal and physical harassment.

According to a statement issued by the Office of Admission, the policy "in no way dictates what student employees may or may not post."

The Facebook, LiveJournal and MySpace are Internet communities where members may compose Web pages containing personal content including contact information and photographs.

The office created the policy to "[explain] in particular those classes of speech that are not protected by the first amendment," according to the statement.

Sara Brookshire, the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission, said the policy was created in the Office of Admission because the student employees in the office handle a great deal of confidential information for all Emerson students, including social security numbers and financial data.

Brookshire said the policy was not created in response to any incident of unauthorized disclosure. She added that the office is not monitoring personal pages to enforce the measure, but will contact the Office of the Dean of Students if there are any reports of infractions.

All employees of the office are required to sign a Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Non-Disclosure Statement form, Brookshire said.

FERPA prevents employees from "releasing personal information about a student" and also warns that employees should "never share information about students [that is] gained while working."

The new Internet policy, in addition to enforcing privacy, also bans Admission employees from posting hateful or harassing comments about fellow employees on the Web, Brookshire said.

It also serves to uphold the policies in the handbook, which contains several rights and responsibilities including the right of students "to be free from improper and illegal discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, political views, sexual orientation, age, sex or disability."

According to Dean of Students Ronald Ludman, the college has no plans to monitor information on the pages of students outside the Office of Admission. However, Ludman said all students should be held to the same guidelines of appropriate behavior in the student handbook.

"We don't monitor the Facebook to the best of my knowledge," Ludman said. "The college's policies are for student behavior, no matter what the medium is. Students are held to the student code of conduct. If there was a question of a student violating the code of conduct, it would be investigated and addressed."

Brian Bruening, office manager for undergraduate admission, said the policy is largely concerned with the right to privacy.

"The privacy of students applying to Emerson is confidential," Bruening said. "We're not going to let out privileged information."

Many students interviewed said they think the measure is appropriate.

"Since I'm a representation of the school, I really shouldn't have anything inappropriate in the Facebook anyway," said Kevin McKeon, a junior film major and Admission office employee. "I don't feel like my personal rights are being stifled at all. It's just trying to make us aware of what we write in our Facebooks and making sure that we don't offend anyone."

However, some students wonder if this is the first step toward policing the general student body's Facebook sites and disciplining accordingly.

Students outside of the Office of Admission wondered whether the employees' First Amendment rights were being violated.

"I understand why [the Admission Office] would do it, but I feel like you should be able to say what you want to say," said Aaron Singer, a freshman film major and employee at Emerson's Digital Production Lab. "Even if [an employee] says something possibly offensive, it shouldn't matter. It's the school, it's real people."

Colleges throughout the country have already begun disciplining students for information published on the Internet.

Last year, Fisher College expelled Cameron Walker, then Student Government Association president, for posting inappropriate material about a Fisher campus police officer on his Facebook page, according to Fisher College Police Chief John McLaughlin.

Christine Hughes, general counsel and legal representative for Emerson, wrote in an e-mail interview on Monday that the Fisher College incident did not have legal bearing on Emerson's disciplinary policies.

"The College has its own student discipline system and reviews each student's case on its own merits, based on the facts and circumstances of that case," Hughes wrote. "What Fisher does in a completely unrelated case involving one of Fisher's students is irrelevent to the college."

Ludman said the school would only be concerned with content that violates college policy, like hate speech.

"The fact is that freedom of speech doesn't mean you can just say whatever you want," Ludman said. "When words or expressions fall outside appropriate speech, it requires a response. And not necessarily a disciplinary response, but also a community response."

Ludman said if a complaint were made about information on Facebook, the offensive material would be treated as any other form of speech.

Bruening said he agreed and that posting information on the web is an issue that students should think about.

"Since Emerson is so committed to communications, it's an important discussion to have," Bruening said. "There's no concrete answer to this, and Emerson doesn't have one either. We just want students to know what their rights are, and what their rights aren't."