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Students, faculty pan university's confidentiality agreement

By The Associated Press
07.21.06

STILLWATER, Okla. — Critics of a confidentiality agreement that some students, faculty and staff at Oklahoma State University were ordered to sign say it appears to violate First Amendment rights.

OSU officials say the agreement is no longer required and will be rewritten to respond to critics. The agreement was drafted after a laptop computer containing student information was stolen last year.

"This sounds like something you'd be asked to sign at the CIA," said Charles Davis, a University of Missouri journalism professor and co-chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists' freedom of information committee. "It's just arrogant."

OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said administrators started asking employees to sign the agreement in February. Shutt said administrators agreed to rewrite it after complaints started pouring in from faculty and staff.

But students working for The Daily O'Collegian, the university's student newspaper, were told yesterday that they would not be paid if they didn't agree to sign.

Shutt said administrators forgot to tell departments that signing the agreement was no longer required. After being told yesterday by The Oklahoman that some departments still were requiring it, Shutt said he would work to clear up the problem.

"We've had a breakdown on communications," Shutt said. "We should have let everyone know where it all stood. We have people who are operating based on what they understood from February."

Shutt said the form may have been attached to some payroll documents. He said the only people who should sign it are those making requests for confidential data from the information systems department.

The rewritten agreement is scheduled to be distributed in the fall, Shutt said. A faculty representative is serving on the committee that is rewriting it.

Past Faculty Council Chairman Bob Darcy said the agreement was an example of a pattern of intimidation from OSU's administration. The Faculty Council passed a resolution in March condemning the agreement and demanding all signed copies be returned. The council asked the administration to more clearly define what information it considers confidential.

"The confidentiality agreement was cooked up by the administration without any consultation with faculty, staff or students — or anybody," Darcy said.

Shutt said concerns that the agreement was too punitive were another reason administrators agreed to rewrite it.

When the OSU student newspaper's managing editor, Jaclyn Cosgrove, came to work yesterday morning, she was told the university was requiring her to sign the agreement. She reluctantly signed, but shredded it after talking with journalism faculty.

Shutt said the university did not intend to clamp down on student journalists. He said the agreement was an attempt to protect sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and academic records for individual students.


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