On Monday, September 9, an email entitled “Campus Directory Announcement” informed students, staff and faculty that Carleton’s campus directory had received a privacy overhaul.
The campus directory, known affectionately as “Stalkernet,” no longer displays students’ home addresses, cell phone numbers or campus residences. Prior to the change, all three fields were visible by default to authenticated, or logged-in, users. Students could choose to opt-out of inclusion on the directory altogether, but had no option to remove select information.
For searchers within the Carleton community, the current directory displays only students’ photos, voice pronunciations, class years, major(s)/minor(s), and email addresses. No student information is available to searchers without a Carleton account.
Other directory changes include the removal of home addresses, phone numbers, and spouse/partner names from an authenticated view of faculty listings, and removal of faculty email addresses from public view. To contact a Carleton professor or staff member, members of the public can click an “email” button to send a message without learning their recipient’s email address.
The campus directory change is part of the broader move from the Reason web-hosting service to WordPress—a project called “Web 2020.” As stated in the September 9 email, the shift “reflects the College’s on-going work to enhance data security and privacy.”
Web2020 is led by a team drawing from various areas of the college, according to Julie Anderson, Director of Web Services. The group includes Tammy Anderson in the Dean of Students Office; Director of Human Resources Kerstin Cárdenas; Registrar Emy Farley; Business Analyst Mavis Gustavson; David Huyck and Julie Creamer in Information Technology Services; Carla Thomas in External Relations; and Anderson herself.
The transition is estimated to take 3–5 years, according to the Web2020 website.
“With Web2020, we need to transition everything to WordPress,” said Anderson. “And the best time to make the changes is prior to a new academic year—so it was either going to be this summer or next. And so that’s really why the timing worked out this way.”
The campus directory previously included an “opt-out” option for students who did not want their data displayed. “That was kind of a brute-force solution,” said Janet Scannell, Chief Technology Officer. “There were students who didn’t show up on sports rosters, because they’d opted out of the directory, and the sports roster pulled from it. It was like they weren’t even on the team.”
Allowing students to opt in or out of certain directory fields would prove quite complicated, said Anderson. “If we introduced another layer in the directory that would allow suppression for certain fields only, that would be another way for things to go awry,” said Anderson. “Students could say ‘I want to be on this list, but I don’t want to be on this list,’ another person would have a different set of requests—and before you know it, you have sixteen a-la-carte variations.”
Some students have expressed concerns regarding the removal of dorm and hometown information.
“As an RA, I utilized the directory as a way to learn who my residents were and by using their images to connect their faces with their names,” said Katie Landacre ’21, a Resident Assistant (RA) in Goodhue Hall. “This is especially important in my first few weeks with my 44 first-year residents. Had I known this change was taking place, I would have printed out a copy of the directory for my personal use, but I was unable to do so since the change was so sudden.”
RAs receive resident rosters from their Area Directors, who retrieve them from Residence, an online housing program, explained Tanya Hartwig, Associate Director of Residential Life. Residential Life staff always have access to Residence information, which is updated in real time.
“The changes to the directory have definitely made some aspects of the RA job more difficult,” said Michael Gaisor ’20, an RA in Rice House. “I’m personally concerned about the duty-related implications. If something were to happen during duty rounds in a building like Musser or Parish, which I’m responsible for but not familiar with, I would have no idea how to report names other than remembering the room number.
“Everything considered, I don’t mind that people can’t see my home address,” continued Gaisor. “Room numbers were one thing, but the idea that my peers could easily search for and find my home address was mildly worrisome. Hometown? Sure. But street address? Kind of scary.”
“I’ve gotten a handful of emails from students,” said Anderson. “Three students—and one staff member—have said that having more information available student-to-student was helpful for community-building. I wondered if I might get, you know, fifty emails like that—I didn’t.”
Some students who previously withheld their information have opted back in to the directory list now that it has undergone this change, noted Scannell.
“We’ve gotten a handful of verbal thank-yous,” she said, “from people for whom the ‘stalker’ part of ‘Stalkernet’ was uncomfortable.”
Campus directory updates were not unique to Carleton this year. On September 6, 2019, Princeton University’s online directory removed home address and campus residence information, reported the Daily Princetonian.
“We continually review how information is managed and shared at the University,” wrote Michael Hotchkiss, Princeton’s Deputy University Spokesperson, as quoted in the Daily Princetonian. “To protect the privacy and security of our students, we have further restricted directory information about students that may have been available to University community members.”
Wellesley College also removed residence hall information from their authenticated student directory view. “The decision for this change coincides with concerns over what type of data should be made available to who, as well as our transition to a new system,” said Ravi Ravishanker, Wellesley’s Chief Information Officer. “This allows us to distribute the information to selected users based on the need to know.”
At Bates College, students’ home addresses were removed from the authenticated directory and reduced to city, state, and country information. Campus residence information was also removed, though students have the option to opt-in and display it.
“This year, we had to make changes to our display to allow faculty, staff and students to share their preferred pronouns,” said Marjorie Hall, Bates’ Strategic Communications Director. “We reviewed the other fields that had been in our directory, and decided to make it the students choice if they wanted to disclose their campus residence, pronouns, and cell phone information.”
Scannell and Anderson did not attribute Carleton’s directory changes to any particular national event nor the recent changes mentioned here.
“The choice to change the amount of student data it was showing was based on a number of factors,” said Anderson. “We did some research about what other schools are doing, and it seemed clear that a lot of them are limiting student data to the public.”
In 2016, the European Union Parliament approved The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), regulation on data protection and privacy for EU citizens. The GDPR has been enforced in the EU since 2018, and organizations that do not comply face large fines.
“GDPR got everybody thinking about what data to collect, how long to keep it, whether you could delete it if necessary, and things like that,” said Scannell.
“That was a nation-wide phenomenon. We hired some lawyers to help with that, and we sent some people through trainings. The directory decisions weren’t directly tied to that, but it probably influenced our consciousness. Principles like: don’t collect more data than you absolutely need, don’t keep it any longer than you need it, and don’t share it with people who don’t absolutely need it.”
“Everyone has become more sensitized to these issues,” said Anderson. “We don’t want to be in the news because we’ve exposed something.”
Apart from general data protection concern, the Web 2020 team also reached out to the Carleton community to gather information about interpersonal incidents.
“The group learned of incidents wherein students visited professors’ and staff members’ houses unannounced,” said Anderson.
Anderson and Scannell also mentioned learning of student-to-student incidents, but did not describe any particular cases where dorm room information was involved in Title IX cases.
“We had a few incidents where faculty whose research is a little more controversial have been harrassed, so we wanted to make those email addresses not visible,” said Scannell. “There’s no need for the email address to be available, as long as there’s a way for people to contact someone. We just added one more layer that protects privacy a bit more.”
While campus residence information is no longer viewable on the directory, student profiles still display the information. Not all students have filled out their profiles, but for those who create new profiles this year, their campus location will populate.
“We decided that personal information of students was not ours to share,” said Anderson. “Other things we removed, like faculty email addresses, are also available in other ways, this project was in no way an attempt to block all that information anywhere you could ever get it—We’re trying to find the right balance to meet the needs of the community, while not making the decision to expose people’s personal data, because that’s not our decision to make.”
“We’re always trying to evolve,” said Scannell. “A few years ago we added the option for students to record how their name should be pronounced. Just this year we added the option of adding your pronouns, which shows on your professors’ and adviser’s rosters—and we’re discussing how or when to show that on the directory.”
This October, the Web 2020 team will meet with Dean of the College Bev Nagel, Vice President Fred Rogers, and Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston to establish whether they will make exceptions for particular departments who are interested in access to more information.
“We’re always trying to stay aware and adapt—either adding information or removing information as circumstances warrant,” said Scannell. “We have no specific Phase Two, but we’re open to evolving.”