During the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs’ regular meeting Monday, the committee spoke with James Hilton, vice provost for digital education initiatives and the dean of libraries, regarding the use of student information and data for research and teaching purposes.

Hilton told the committee that the University currently collects a variety of student data including information on financial status, housing, parking structure use and network logs.

An 11-member working group on the topic, established to enable data analytics by linking together student data, has proposed plans to allow University researchers and faculty access to existing student information. Under the current plans, prior to the release of the student data to faculty members, designated data stewards may identify certain data to be excluded, but the unit will have to provide sound reason to justify any exclusion.

“As part of the world we live in now, all of the systems produce an incredible volume of data as part of their operation,” Hilton said. “For any kind of data collected anywhere in the University, someone can come in and say ‘I want to look at the relationship between learning outcomes and living on campus nutrition’ and that would be perfectly reasonable.”

Though the proposals are not official yet, Hilton said he has been having conversations with University officials and faculty, and expects to speak with E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, before eventually drafting a policy statement.

Hilton added that University libraries would also soon begin to collect student information including book circulation history, but students will have the option to opt out of data collection.

Pharmacy professor David Smith, a member of SACUA, raised concerns about the optional collection method for data collection at University libraries, and said he thought it would result in unreliable data sets for research purposes.

“It biases the data because you can opt in and opt out,” Smith said. “The information that you get will be dependent on people’s decisions.”

Art and Design professor Anne Mondro, another member of SACUA, also asked whether researchers could access information on CTools and whether there would be an option to opt out of sharing her course information on CTools.

In response, Hilton said while the University could study the access log from CTools and see how many student used specific resources, that wouldn’t make the course content itself available.

Additionally during the meeting, Engineering Prof. William Schultz, a member of SACUA, updated the Committee on the certification process of the University’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy for Students, Faculty and Staff. The two-year process is required because the University is a recipient of Federal funding.

“It is a serious process, “ Schultz said. “There is discussion between alcohol and sexual misconduct. It’s going to get more pressing.”

Schultz added that there has been talks to implement a mechanism to have University community members acknowledge on record that they have read and understood the AOD policy.

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