In the wake of an incident last year in which two University of Utah faculty members accessed a student's grades for information in retaliation for a newspaper column, the university is considering restricting faculty access to student records.
The two faculty members were reprimanded after the incident, and university President Bernie Machen also ordered a review of security policies.A committee he created is recommending severely restricting professors' ability to access student grades through the school's computer system.
The new policy could be in place by this fall.
"We as an institution were just lax because we had not had any problems in that area," Machen said. "Now we're going to have to tighten it up."
The two professors' use of the student's records violated provisions within the faculty handbook, which states grades can only be accessed for "legitimate purposes such as advising, administrative planning and statistical reporting."
Federal law imposes similar restrictions.
But an estimated 500 faculty and staff have access to student grades through the school's computer system, and currently there is no way to track who is looking at what.
One of the proposals is to pull that access from the professors unless they work in the registrar's office, financial-aid office or the center for academic advising.
Professors outside those offices who want to see a student's record would have to get it from the student.
Machen has distributed the recommendations for review and expects to implement new policies this fall.
"We just were not cognizant of how legally sensitive - if not morally sensitive - this stuff is," he said.
Brandon Winn, the student columnist who had his grades exposed by the professors, called the proposal to restrict access to student records "long overdue," but he also believes the two professors should have been fired.
Winn, a sports columnist, had written about fair-weather fans, whom he described as "about as bright as a parks and tourism major."
Gary Ellis, chair of the university's parks, recreation and tourism department, and John Crossley, undergraduate adviser, wrote executives of the campus newspaper in protest and cited Winn's grades.