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Student information policy drafted

When a student reviews her online record in WEBSIS, she finds an error in the grade recorded for a class. What should the student do? What are her rights?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers asks for the names of the students who are majoring in Course VI so they can send professional announcements and publications to the EECS students. Can the department give IEEE these names?

A class web page contains the list of students in the class (including e-mail addresses, term addresses and phone numbers), the schedule of lectures and exams, assignments, readings, an online class discussion and the students' papers. Can all of this material be made available unrestricted on the web?

The answers to these questions are contained in the final draft version of MIT's Student Information Policy, which is now available to the community for comment from April 1-22. The full draft is printed on pages 12-13 in this issue of MIT Tech Talk.

In the course of a student's life at MIT, the Institute gathers a great deal of information about each undergraduate and graduate student. Some of that information is given to MIT by the students (biographical and directory information), some is generated by administrative activities (receiving and paying for financial aid) and some is provided by the faculty as part of the academic program (grades and evaluations). The Student Information Policy is intended to inform students of their rights, and faculty and staff of their responsibilities as creators, custodians and users of student information.

Last year, Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay was asked to undertake a review of MIT's student information policy. Helen Samuels has served as the staff to this project. The policy that existed -- which can be found in Policies and Procedures, 11.3 Privacy of Student Records, on the web -- as well as the revised version are based on the federal government's Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 that protects the privacy of student education records.

MIT's policies on privacy and student information remain fundamentally unaltered. What has changed is that electronic systems have altered the way student information is collected, transmitted and used. Electronic systems in a networked environment facilitate academic and administrative activities for students, faculty and staff. At the same time, the increased access to information poses serious questions about how to implement MIT policies in this environment. Students, faculty and staff need guidance.

Over the last year, Dr. Clay and Ms. Samuels sought advice from students, faculty and staff about the issues they hoped would be addressed in a new policy. In addition, they studied MIT's current policy, applicable laws and best practices from other institutions. Earlier drafts were discussed with students, faculty and staff, and the comments received helped improve the document and answer many questions raised in the preliminary discussions.

The final draft of the Student information Policy is the product of this work. This document is intended to:

  • establish new policy where needed,
  • clarify existing policy,
  • suggest when additional procedures and education will be required, and
  • provide a structure to address questions in the future.

The policy outlines the underlying principles that must guide the manner in which student information is collected, maintained and used, and defines what is and is not student information. The policy also describes the rights of students to have access to their records, and the circumstances in which information can be disclosed to members of the MIT faculty and staff, and to individuals outside of the Institute.

The policy controls student information in all formats, paper and electronic, but it pays particular attention to issues surrounding the electronic transmission of student information, such as the use of e-mail to transmit sensitive information, and the posting of student information on class web pages. Finally, a structure is proposed to oversee the implementation of this policy.


Dr. Clay and Ms. Samuels are now seeking community reaction to the proposed policy. Copies of the document are available in the current print edition of MIT Tech Talk. The MIT Home Page will spotlight the policy on April 1-2.

Community members are encouraged to read the document and send comments to Ms. Samuels at before April 22. For more information, call Ms. Samuels at x8-0310.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 1, 1998.

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