March 27, 2011 in Public Interest
It was a lengthy and speculative examination of a national organization for conservative lawmakers that the professor, William Cronon, believed was partly responsible for what he described as “this explosion of radical conservative legislation.” The post soon received more than a half million hits, he said.
Two days later, on March 17, while attending a conference of historians, Professor Cronon learned that a public records request had been filed by a state Republican Party official demanding access to months of messages on his university e-mail account that referred to certain politicized words and names, including the governor and a number of legislators.
Professor Cronon, who describes himself as a political independent, said his initial nervousness had turned to anger over what he described as an attempt at harassment and intimidation. He said he had never engaged in any nonscholarly political work on university computers or time, which is prohibited, but was still concerned about the release of the e-mails.
I’m going to say this once, please listen. DO NOT use your business (university or other) email for ANY personal business. In fact, use it as little as possible.
I know many people like giving out their business email because it might look cool or because you don’t want to check more than one account. STOP IT! Don’t give me your business account unless you own your own business. Even then, I really don’t want it. Get a personal account and use it. Get one that won’t change over the years so I don’t have to change my address book ever time your job (or domain) changes.
It’s not just because you might be open to a records request like this professor. More importantly, your business owns those messages. You have NO expectation of privacy with these emails. Your boss (or administration) can access your account any time they want. Of course, there may be some rules and regulations in place, but these are not exactly going to protect your privacy.
In fact, I only use my university accounts for university business. For me that means about 1000 pieces of junk mail each day, a couple departmental announcements of some worth, and the occasional students email (most communication is through other, not email means).
I use my personal accounts for EVERYTHING else. This even includes most of my teaching communications. Why would I give the university access to these records? I’m not forced to and it seems that I am better off not doing so.
In addition, for you teachers out there. Anything you do on a school computer, network, and on school time is basically owned by the school. For this reason, I suggest bringing in a personal computer (laptop of course) and using VPNs or other encryption mechanisms to protect your privacy while computing at school (work in this case). At the very least, clear your cache, temp files, cookies, passwords, and browser history every once in a while and keep all non-work documents in internet storage (like Sugarsync) or use encrypted folders/drives that require a password to access. This is all just 21 Century CYA (cover your ass) advice.
It’s odd that he said that he doesn’t do other work on university time in the article. A professor doesn’t really have “university time” unless you count classroom teaching time and meetings. That’s both a benefit and drawback of being a professor. There are no clock in/clock out times. You are always on the clock (or off the clock as some would argue). Work, for a professor, is whenever they are teaching, administering, writing, reading, or even thinking about work (most often in terms of research). So, depending on which way you consider it, he was always doing non-scholarly activities on university time….Or maybe he never did. Confusing? Yes.