Speaking Out

Retirement Plan Well Done

The Executive Board of the A-3 Assembly is pleased to join in on the announcement from the University that it will now offer A-3 employees (University-designated weekly- paid staff), an opportunity to join and participate in a new and revised edition of the TDA (Tax Deferred Annuity) retirement plan. (See the Retirement Plan article in this issue). Even though over 700 A-3 employees are presently engaged in making contributions to the TDA, it is without matching contributions from the University. Under the new plan, all employees who participate in the TDA will receive matching contributions from the University.

This is a monumental achievement for the A-3 Assembly. As many of you know, the A-3 Assembly has been pursuing this goal for a number of years. It is gratifying to know that our voices were finally heard. However, it is just as important to us that A-3 employees take full advantage of this opportunity. The Human Resources Department is working very closely with me and other Board members to make sure that the needs of our constituents are met. There will be many group and individual sessions scheduled for each school or center, so that every employee will have an opportunity to be informed of what this change in retirement plans will mean for them, individually. We are encouraging every A-3 staff person to attend one of the many scheduled sessions and to fully participate in this opportunity. Forsaking to do so would be a shame.

We also want the A-3 staff to realize that it was through the hard work and persistence of our A-3 Board that we were in fact able to effect change of this policy. And it will be through that same kind of hard work and persistence that we are able to make any other changes for A-3 staff. We would like you, the A-3 staff members, to join us in our many efforts. Please come out to our next A-3 General Assembly meeting, Tuesday, February 22, 2000, noon-2 p.m., in Irvine Auditorium, room G-16 to hear more about the retirement plan as well as other issues on our agenda this year.

-Debra Smiley Koita,

Chair, A-3 Assembly

Protection of Privacy?

The Proposed Policy on Privacy in the Electronic Environment of the Council Committee on Communications has some generally worded statements which raise serious questions whether it will adequately protect the privacy of faculty members.

In II. A. In General, is the statement "personal communications and files transmitted over or stored on University systems are not treated differently from business communications." Standing alone, this does not indicate what are "business communications", or how they are treated, and with the rest of the Policy may generate unintended problems.

The next paragraph states, "However, the University reserves the right in cases when it is appropriate, to access, review and release electronic information that is transmitted over or stored on University systems." This does not indicate what standard are to be used to determine what is "appropriate", who is to decide that question, whether the person whose communications are accessed is to be notified, and whether notice shall be given before or after access.

In II. B. Faculty, is the sentence, "the University or others may, however, legitimately require access to information that is created, stored, transmitted or received by members of the faculty through the University's facilities." Who are the "others"? Also, the word "legitimately" has, at the very least, the same problems as "appropriate".

It has the far more troublesome potential meaning, that it is legitimate to require access to all information that is created, stored, transmitted or received through the University facilities," not limited to electronic information. Read literally, this could include all letters, memoranda, research notes or other material in a faculty member's files if it were typed by a University secretary or typed by the faculty member on a University word processor.

Now to come back to the first statement that e-mail will not be treated differently from "business communications." There seems to be an assumption that the University is entitled to access to all "business communications." But what is included in "business communications"? E-mail or a fax from one faculty member to another commenting on committee proposals, the character of the Dean or on University policies?

Is the sum of all of this that not only our e-mail but our files are potentially open, that there is no guarantee of privacy?

We doubt that the committee intended these results, and assume that if the policy is adopted as it stands there is little likelihood that any parade of horribles would come to pass. But if a policy on privacy is to be stated, then it should be stated so as to guarantee protection of privacy and not authorize or leave possible the invasion of privacy.

--Stephen Burbank, David Burger Professor of Law

--Robert Gorman, Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law

--Howard Lesnick, Fordham Professor of Law

--Edward Rubin, Professor of Law

--Kim Scheppele, Professor of Law, Political Science and Sociology

--Clyde Summers, Jefferson B. Fordham Professor Emeritus of Law


I hope that Professor Burbank and his colleagues will join in the Open Forum discussion on electronic privacy at University Council next Wednesday, February 9; their views will be welcomed. An updated draft of the policy to which they refer is available at [between issues www.upenn.edu/almanac/between/e-privacy2.html] and may form the basis of discussion of specific provisions at that meeting. Our intent is to use this and other fora to produce a final version of the policy that confers appropriately strong protection and says so clearly. I will defer detailed discussion to that meeting but respond briefly to their major points here.

With respect to the standard for accessing a person's e-mail the final paragraph of II. A. In General gives a number of examples of circumstances that I think we would all agree would justify it. However such a list cannot be exhaustive unless it is infinitely long, or contains some general category of the kind that they criticize. Just one example of a situation that would clearly warrant it, but is not included: suppose a person is missing and there is good reason to believe that they may do serious harm to themselves or others and that their e-mail will reveal their whereabouts and intent. Surely one can and should attempt to discover that.

Professor Summers sent me e-mail pointing out the ambiguous use of "legitimately" in II. B. Faculty and their other concerns, and I thank him. The language has been changed to make it clear that the sense is "when it is legitimate" and not "it is always legitimate".

With respect to the standards for accessing the e-mail of faculty the major-and I believe adequate-protection arises from the authorization and notification requirements. These were developed to apply to the search of paper records in the Policy on Safeguarding University Assets and we have adopted them and extended their application from the physical office to the "virtual office". They require the assent of the Provost in consultation with the Faculty Senate chairs and, except when prohibited by law, subsequent notification of the faculty member who is the subject of the search.

--Martin Pring, Chair, Committee on Communications

Ed. Note:

Also received was a letter, too long for this space, from Fire Specialist John Cook, of Fire and Occupational Safety, which appears in this issue. It deals with preventing tragedies, sharing the responsibilities to keep the University community safe and dealing with emergencies.

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Eds.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 20, February 8, 2000