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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

There But For the Grace of God ...
March 12, 2013 - 8:28am

Obviously time has come for Harvard to have a community conversation on access and privacy of electronic content.  This conversation should address conflicts among and between policies and especially those rules that vest permissions and authority differently per campus constituencies.

This situation is a good lesson for all college and universities to review electronic access and privacy policies periodically.  Not only do laws sometimes change the landscape but so fluid are notions of privacy in the flux of technology and the marketplace that institutions should think of them as temperature and blood pressure to the patient: keep an eye on those readings, because they signal so much more about the health of our missions.  To be sure, it is a challenge to balance institutional business need with the requisite autonomy for faculty, staff and students, but it is not an impossible task.  It requires a clear understanding of culture, law and policy of the community and a lot of conversation.  Even if painful in the beginning, and again, Harvard provides example right now of how painful it can be, the process results in clear rules and procedures for everyone.  But wait, there's more, much more: it builds trust among the community.

Let's take a moment to remember what started this brouhaha: a "scandal" about academic integrity.  In the last several previous blogs I have made the case that for higher education to regain its bearings, it would do well to revisit its first principles of academic integrity, most especially at this time when the Internet would appear to have disrupted the current rubric of rules around those principles.

Harvard will surely get past this moment, better than it was the day before the story broke.  A community conversation will result in revised email access policies, or something along those lines.  But the back story is the real story, and remains a far greater significant challenge for us all.


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