Bad News About Your Right to Privacy, Faculty
So, you finally got your big kid job and now you’re all settled into with snazzy new computer, you’ve got voice mail that pops up and records your messages on your computer, lab space in a blinged out new building, and you’re just about to use some development money to go to Europe because someone saw your jazzy new website and thought you’d make a great addition to their symposium. LIVING THE DREAM!
Oh wait, there’s a phone call for you. Bad news is calling. Like when the student that you take with you to Europe with acts like a complete jackaloupe. Or maybe the Europe meeting went fine, but someone posted a picture on social media and tagged you napping after your 14h flight, and someone makes a snarky comment that you look like you were passed out from drinking? Or, here’s one I just heard, you walk in on someone in the department who is blatantly stealing things from the office supply closet. They are going to get fired and nothing is going to happen to you, right? Your university has your back, yes?
Actually, kids, you’re gonna need to sit down for this one because Fighty Squirrel has some bad news. Are you sitting? Maybe you need to get your comfy blanket as well because this is going to smart a bit. Your university will give you a full out digital colonoscopy in any investigation of you even if you are just a witness in an investigation. They will dig through all your emails, the calendar you keep on your computer, check their surveillance videos, listen to your voice mails and look at any social media. You have no ‘right’ to privacy especially when using their computer, office, phone or email.
Take a few case studies….Paul Brookes fraud buster extraordinaire. He anonymously (and very much in his spare time), outed some of the worst data fakers out there. Rather than getting the Medal of Awesome, he barely came away with all his fingers and toes. All of what he thought were his ‘private’ things, were not. We talk more about him here.
That person who busted someone stealing a bunch of university property? I‘m not sharing names, but there were no McGruff Crime Dog Ribbons. People’s emails got take away for weeks by university lawyers for weeks. Like….all the data and stuff you sent around to collaborators when you were writing the grant is just *poof* gone. In this case, the supply-stealer led investigators to believe that there was a giant plot to harass them. And so that needed to be investigated, and lots of people ended up with no email.
Here’s another true life one…you email your colleagues about how to end the horrific behaviors of your local data faker/sexual harasser. You’re trying to do the right thing for science and students. The university should applaud your willingness to come together as a group, yes? Sorry. No. In this case, the university lawyers handed said faculty a giant pile or their own (private??) emails including ones to their spouses thanking them for cuddles. The fact that faculty had ‘come together as a group’ actually weakened the case against the someone doing science misdeeds. The lawyers felt that people were ‘getting their stories to align’ when, in fact, they were just picking the most aggregious stories to share.
And what about asking senior faculty for advice about a tanked graduate student? You’ll probably be told that ‘going public’ (ie opening your mouth) is counter to a system the university has in place for these problems. Which is particularly odd because you will never ever hear of anyone getting reprimanded and this surely wasn’t the first person who ever behaved horribly at a meeting.
Is this because you have an evil President/ Chancellor/Chairman? I don’t know. I do know that outside every one of those administrative offices are a team of lawyers. Actual, teams of teams of lawyers and they know you are using campus resources and they aren’t afraid to dig out whatever information they want. For some public universities, this information will also be available if a Freedom of Information Act is filed. In these instances, a student who got a bad grade in your class can ask for access to your email when you write colleagues pointing out that the said student slept in class, was lazy or rude. Calling people lazy and rude in emails can also land you in deep water with a whole other group of lawyer types.
Now before you do a Ron Swanson and toss all your devices, here’s a couple protips to keep your nose clean and your university lawyers bored.
Use university email minimally. Gmail has tons of memory, way better search-ability and organization. Make the most of Gmail especially for writing personal emails or when you are bantering with colleagues.
Make your own website on your own platform. A few months ago, my university separated into a medical center and a university. I got an email that I needed to make a new website. That wasn’t going to happen, and mercifully it didn’t. Save yourself some angst and just have your own website. Put up some bare bones thing your school can have on their department server, but then make your own blinged out site off the university servers.
Bring in your own laptop If you’re doing any personal computer work, bring your laptop, and work on it in your office. No reason for your boss to know that you spend 6h a day on this awesome site to buying squirrel clothes.
Blog, Post or Use Social Media do it as a Psued You surely have lots of great questions about grantsmanship, politicking, what’s important for you to do out of the piles of things you are offered. You should ask them. I recommend Twitter and Reddit. Just do it as a well-kept psued or psued account you share with others. I also recommend a psued (fake name). Any 140 characters can be taken out of context and you just need an answer, not a bunch of lawyers checking out your squirrel shopping. IRL (in real life) accounts are for folks with tenure or just ways to talk in the most professional way possible.
Back It Up on Your Dime. One of the problems of using multiple accounts/devices and networks is that you need to coordinate across platforms. Here’s the tricky thing. Do NOT charge cloud storage of anything that is personal to your university. Even if your Dropbox account is 95% confocal images and 5% squirrel clothing, your squirrel clothing becomes fair game if you’re investigated in any way shape or form. If it makes you feel any better, items that you have to pay for out of your pocket to have a job is also tax deductible, so talk to your accountant.
Don’t be a Wanker. If there is something in your office that shouldn’t be in your office, you’re sort of a wanker. Knock it off and get rid of it now. And yes, I’m looking at you, friends with 27 dead bottles of whiskey on your bookcase. This is a job. Not a bar. Hang up some cute pictures of your students confocal images or something. That’s how you show your lab your proud of their work.