UMN student data privacy policy goes under review

The Minnesota Student Association has been advocating to make student information more private for about two years.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Samantha Hendrickson

After about two years of advocacy by the Minnesota Student Association and other students, the University of Minnesota policy concerning student data privacy is eligible for a comprehensive review, with potential amendments being drafted for the first time since 2011. 

The current policy makes some student information publicly available without the student’s consent, unless the student specifically suppresses it. The information is kept on the searchable “People Search” database, and makes information public, like name, address, phone number and enrollment status, along with other personal information. 

This review is the next step toward long-awaited changes on the issue of student data privacy. It will take into consideration student voices as the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost drafts potential amendments to the Student Education Records Policy.

“We’re optimistic now that the potential amendments moving forward would be … keeping student information protections at the forefront,” said Austin Kraft, MSA student representative to the Board of Regents, in an interview with the Minnesota Daily. Kraft drafted the data privacy resolution and has been in talks with various committees on the process for many months.

The point of a comprehensive review, as defined by the University Board of Regents, is to determine whether or not the policy “is still needed” and still “align[s] with the strategic direction and mission of the University.” 

In a resolution passed by MSA in December 2018, students laid out what changes they want made, including regulations surrounding external requests and limiting student information access only to internal parties within the University.

Potential policy changes will not take place until the amendments go before the Board of Regents, which will likely not be until May 2020, said Marlo Welshons, an assistant to the Provost, in an email.

“The policy is undergoing a comprehensive review on its regular cycle, and as such, we are working through the consultation process to determine what amendments should be proposed…” Welshons said in an email. “This includes considering the resolution from the Minnesota Student Association, along with feedback from other faculty, staff, and student groups on all campuses.”

Kraft said it is motivating to know that the Provost’s office is making progress since a comprehensive policy review does not happen everyday.

“Years of student advocacy on this topic … have built on students’ growing awareness of their information privacy and on students’ very reasonable expectations for how their information should be protected,” Kraft said in an email.

Sina Roughani, however, a University student who has been heavily involved in the talks surrounding student data privacy after a presentation he made for an MSA forum meeting back in 2017, said he is not as excited. He said he would rather see a change in what is defined as student directory information, not just who has access to it, as proposed by MSA. 

“It is exciting to see this step taken toward reinvigorated policy for protecting student information,” Kraft said in an email. “I look forward to seeing how this advocacy, which centers students’ concerns about privacy and safety, is realized in University policy.”