By Abigail Frazier, Staff Writer –
UTC has the ability and permission to access any student, faculty or staff school email if any incident arises that gives suspicion to misconduct at the university.
Not many students remember signing the Acceptable Use Policy when enrolling at UTC, but every student, faculty and staff member is required to read and sign this policy.
When asked if she remembered signing this policy, junior and Engineering Management major Anna Kate Tenpenny said, “No I don’t ever remember signing a form that said that. However, that was almost three years ago.”
Unaware of the policy at first, Tenpenny’s first thoughts after learning about the policy were some many students can relate to.
“I initially felt that this could mean that I’m being monitored all the time. I thought ‘there’s no way!’ for a minute but then hoped that it was only for extreme purposes,” she said.
According to Vice Chancellor for Communications and Marketing George Heddleston,Tenpenny’s hope is correct.
“If there is something that seems like an emergency situation that warrants the need to go in and look at somebody’s email, then and only then do we get that right to [give] the okay to search,” he said.
Like Heddleston said, UTC searches only when emergency situations or extreme cases require to find out more information through searches like ones in email.
There have not been many cases where UTC needs to access a student’s email, but Heddleston shared one example.
“There was a student who was using his cellphone to photograph a test and he was sending it to other students. That seemed to me like a violation to good conduct and reason to search,” he said.
Associate Dean of Students Brett Fuchs also clarified on the motives of searching into student emails and shared another example.
“Recently there was a lead to a potential sexual assault and we had reason to believe email was involved in it,” he shared.
According to Fuchs, UTC rarely contacts the IT Center to search a student’s email because it is “not a normal thing and not something that is arbitrary,” he said. However, if a student shows some form of misconduct involving the university, then the school has the right to search in order to ensure safety for students, faculty, staff and campus as a whole.
According to the UTC website, in Section One of the Acceptable Use Policy it states, “As required by state law, the University hereby notifies users that email may be a public record and open to public inspection under the Tennessee Open Records Act, unless the email is covered by an exception to the Act, such as personally identifiable student information, proprietary information or trade secrets.”
As the policy states, all emails that go through the UTC system are therefore public record. UTC does not consider personal emails logged into UTC computers public record, but any email with “mocs.utc.edu” or “utc.edu” can be used and documented if given warrant.
After being informed in the process and motives behind UTC’s Acceptable Use Policy and its involvement with student emails, Tenpenny grew to appreciate her school in the ways they handle technology.
“Especially in the case of threatening messages, I think that makes me feel like theUniversity has the safety of its students in mind,” she said.
In hopes of easing students’ minds through the potential searches UTC may make on student emails if misconduct arises, Heddleston explains what the university does not want students to think.
“We don’t want the students to think big brother is looking at your emails and be careful what you write, it’s not like that,” he explained.
Instead, the point behind the policy is solely to protect the university and its students.