Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Where is the line? 

In an update to the story yesterday about the MnSCU board spat, I identified Mr. Kimball as not being a student. In this I could only rely on information I had in my control, such as the student directory and the online email list. He was not found in either one. I took that to mean he was not a student on the campus in 2006-07. Students not registered for classes have their email accounts suspended by the university's computing staff.

Shortly after my 10pm update, Mr. Kimball emailed me from a student account here on campus. I confess at first to being surprised. He indicated he was enrolled in classes. The only way this can happen, as best I can surmise, is that he is enrolled for a class or more this coming fall. (Here's the automated way he can do that.) Due to data privacy issues, there is no way for me to tell that someone is an incoming student (or returning after some hiatus) unless they identify themselves.

When I decided in 2004 to join the NARN as a radio personality, I resolved that it had to be clear that I spoke on the air in a personal capacity. I try hard to avoid the impression that a listener thinks I speak on behalf of the university. I thought I had taken due care in establishing, within the rules of data privacy, that he was not a student and therefore unlikely to be seen as someone with whom I might have any professional responsibility.

Had Hal identified himself as a returning student before our Saturday broadcast, I would have hesitated on running the story and would certainly have been more tempered in my discussion of his role; I can understand the confusion it causes to think I may be criticizing him as a professor. Again, he has never been my student and given his course of study (identified publicly as a masters program in social responsibility) he likely never will. But my line is a little further out than that; the potential that criticism of a person is seen as my speaking officially to a student is over that line.

My obligation is to the university in this regard. To them, I apologize for any confusion I may have caused in mistaking Hal as an ex-student. While I believe I took due care to ascertain his status, it is nevertheless my mistake for which I will take responsibility. I have communicated my regrets to Hal, who has been gracious in his reply. I will write no more on this matter, and I will clarify my mistake on the air next Saturday.