Author: Ashley Elpern Editor-in-Chief
Putting our Resources to Work
More than a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, life in America and across the globe has yet to return to normal. With the advent of bio-terrorism, manifested in the infiltration of the United States Postal Service, perhaps our generation's sense of invulnerability has been forever lost. Personal safety seems increasingly threatened and precautions to protect postal workers, employees of news media groups and the everyday citizen are being strengthened to combat this latest threat to our national security.
In a poll of 190 students conducted by The Middlebury Campus, the majority of respondents indicated little fear of anthrax directly affecting them, while two-thirds said they were not exercising caution when opening their mail. When asked if the College was doing enough to inform students about the risks of anthrax and precautions to be taken, roughly half agreed and half disagreed. The results suggest that the College is taking some important measures to promote awareness, but that a more active role could be taken to facilitate discussion and reflection on the aftershocks of Sept. 11.
We should take comfort in Middlebury students' sense of security, however, we must remember that a suspicious package was delivered to the College mailroom last week. Even though this incident posed no threat to the community, the College should view it as an opportunity to build awareness of bio-terrorism and place further emphasis on safety precautions. In addition, we must capitalize on the student, faculty and administrative resources at our disposal. As a liberal arts college, Middlebury is uniquely positioned to foster intellectual and informational discussions about national news. Students and faculty should tap this resource by organizing more panel discussions or integrating national affairs into classroom discussion. The responsibility of expanding awareness should rest equally on all members of the College community, hopefully taking the shape of sponsoring campus forums and lectures while encouraging informal discussions about the collective challenges we face.
In addition, we commend the Middlebury faculty which has recently teamed with local media outlets to share their expertise on anthrax, Islam, economics and patriotism with the greater Vermont community. Even though life at Middlebury may often seem idyllic and removed from the national scene, our community is part of a larger whole and must remain sensitive, aware and affected by what occurs in the nation.
Director of Undergraduate Affairs Lucinda Belanger recently admitted that she furnished data to a Middlebury student pertaining to members of the Class of 2002 ranking in the top and lowest five percentage of their class. While there was nothing inherently wrong with releasing the statistics, they were shared with the student's suitemates, who proceeded to speculate on which seniors were represented in the data based on gender and major.
In the wake of this incident, a careful assessment of the College's policy on regarding the release of sensitive information must be conducted. Belanger's decision did not technically violate the 1974 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, but the action of the student in question makes clear the risk of giving students too much access to College records in the absence of a firm, signed commitment to confidentiality.
In response to one student's claim that his privacy was violated, Belanger resolved that she would "no longer release data about currently enrolled students that would be traceable to a specific individual." She also pledged to ensure confidentiality by requiring signed agreements prior to releasing records in the future.
This reaction is prudent, but comes in response to a lapse of judgment on the part of the Office of Undergraduate Affairs and perhaps of College policy in general. In their many jobs and responsibilities across campus, Middlebury students have access to personal, private information regarding students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni. Often these student employees do not even have to sign documents requiring confidentiality or reminding them of their privilege to see such information. Because many entry-level positions in the real job market do not give employees such freedom and access to sensitive information, Middlebury students should respect the level of responsibility they are given and not use the information they receive for social purposes, both in and out of the workplace.
Author: Ashley Elpern Editor-in-Chief