Author Topic: Tell me about surveillance  (Read 1073 times)

Morris Zapp

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Tell me about surveillance
« on: August 17, 2019, 09:02:35 AM »
I'd be curious to hear from admin folks here about what information they collect about faculty -- do you monitor what they do on their computers, read their e-mail? If they're teaching online, how often do you look in on what they're doing and what are you looking for exactly?  What do you do with the info that you collect?
My sense is that there is more and more of this going on, but I'd love to hear it from the horse's mouth, as it were.


ciao_yall

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2019, 09:11:51 AM »
I'd be curious to hear from admin folks here about what information they collect about faculty -- do you monitor what they do on their computers, read their e-mail? If they're teaching online, how often do you look in on what they're doing and what are you looking for exactly?  What do you do with the info that you collect?
My sense is that there is more and more of this going on, but I'd love to hear it from the horse's mouth, as it were.

I couldn't imagine bothering to go into someone's email unless they were accused of some horrible activity involving their email and it was part of the investigation.

Our college administration wanted to require faculty to use their official college email for all college-related correspondence. The reason was that it was important to be able to be able reach people without hearing "I never check that one - use surferdude55@yahoo.com." And it was better in case a student complained about faculty conduct over email.

Anyway, the faculty union threw a horrible hissy fit and it never happened.
 

polly_mer

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2019, 12:49:00 PM »
The biggest surveillance done by humans with clipboards was checking that faculty were holding classes for basically every session for basically the full session and were in the vicinity during their posted office hours.   Students complained and it turns out the students were correct that they were being ripped off.

After validated student reports about online teaching failures, I started checking online courses every day during the first week and then once per week to see that faculty were doing something in the courses.  Faculty who clearly were substantially engaged went down to a random once a term.  Faculty who were failing to meet expectations were contacted and we spoke to develop improvement plans that I checked were implemented.

I know of automatic systems that log all websites visited from a computer and other remote connections that will trigger on certain patterns so that a human can check.  I know non-faculty who have been fired for misuse of computers including substantial porn usage and mass violation of copyright (e.g., running the file sharing group or website). I know of non-faculty who who were fired for systematic misuse of resources including failure to adequately protect sensitive data.

I know people who have had certain emails disappear, again more of the automated system tracking patterns then flagged for review by a human, not a human reading everything.  I was not in a position to know for certain that a couple faculty ended up under investigation based on their email patterns, but the suspicions ran high when a couple faculty members were summoned to the provost's office to explain exactly what they were doing to keep separate their side-businesses and activities from their duties to the college as faculty members.

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science.expat

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2019, 07:22:05 PM »
We have an automated system that flashes up a warning if it thinks you’re trying to access a dubious website. You can continue but I’d guess that gets reported in some form - don’t know if the warnings do.

Emails can be accessed quite readily if there’s any kind of a misconduct investigation. As an investigator I’ve had this option twice but have turned it down both times.

lightning

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2019, 07:24:28 PM »
I get a new MAC laptop every 3-4 years. I insist on new and still wrapped in plastic, in the box. I NEVER let IT talk me into taking a previously used laptop, even if the laptop is more powerful. Regardless, what "they" try to find out about me will bore them to tears.

polly_mer

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2019, 04:00:57 AM »
We have an automated system that flashes up a warning if it thinks you’re trying to access a dubious website. You can continue but I’d guess that gets reported in some form - don’t know if the warnings do.

My current employer flat out blocks certain websites.  One can then fill out a form to make a case for why one needs access to the specific website and possibly get the website unblocked for one's company computer.  I've been surprised at what seemingly random sites get blocked.  The most entertaining one recently was the internal help page for a software product that we developed and maintain.  I'm not sure what got that one blocked, but it's been blocked for months now.
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

Grinch

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2019, 05:17:21 AM »
I can't imagine reading someone's email unless there was a reason for concern. We do have a distance learning group that will review online classes, but they are not SME, so they are just looking at the basics of course design. They do not share their information with the admins, but work directly with faculty if there are areas that are lacking. They are also the group that trains faculty who want to teach online.

Cloudwatcher

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2019, 12:04:56 PM »
I am a mid-level administrator, chair of a big (on our campus) department. I am enrolled in the courses that use our LMS. I never check them unless I get a grade grievance at end of semester and faculty are scattered. I can usually go in, see if what the student is telling me lines up with the reality of what is in the gradebook (usually it doesn’t), and then resolve the situation without having to stress the faculty out or having the student take the complaint to the next level. I guess some chairs might go into them for other reasons, but we have more than three dozen faculty teaching loads of classes. I can’t imagine using my time that way.

I used to wonder how much our email was monitored and realized when an ugly situation blew up this year (mercifully outside my department) that it wasn’t. It took a a student reporting a truly horrible situation in which faculty were acting badly for an investigation to start that resulted in IT combing through email and other files stored on university property. The faculty are gone, and my guess is their legacy to the rest of us is that IT is now regularly checking email and files. I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but I assume the university is taking more proactive steps to find and shut down this kind of behavior.

spork

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2019, 02:13:22 PM »
I was a department chair until recently (my term was up, I declined another one), I wish chairs on my campus were automatically enrolled in the LMS shells for my department's courses. Getting access is treated as the equivalent of putting a man on the moon. Chairs aren't even given grade distributions for instructors/courses in their departments -- again, getting this kind of information requires a special request with numerous people signing off on it.

The only act of surveillance on my campus that I'm aware of involved the FBI paying a visit to a staff member, who was never seen again. He had apparently stored child pornography on a university server. Our HR office doesn't even seem to screen hires for criminal convictions. It's a bit disturbing when a three second Google search turns up court records on recently-hired employees.

Dr. F.

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2019, 06:35:12 PM »
I once worked at a university-adjacent non-profit (think university associated museum) where the CEO routinely monitored all staff email, because he was paranoid about a staff uprising. He had the sole IT guy do the heavy lifting, to the extent that the IT guy couldn't solve any legitimate IT issues. Everyone knew this was happening. He also had security cameras installed which were not pointed towards access points, but towards staff offices. He tried to erase a bunch of emails that demonstrated a hostile working environment. Unfortunately for him, I'd forwarded them to a private email.

In the end (after I was laid off), he was ousted by a volunteer uprising.

pink_

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #10 on: August 20, 2019, 04:57:16 AM »
We have an automated system that flashes up a warning if it thinks you’re trying to access a dubious website. You can continue but I’d guess that gets reported in some form - don’t know if the warnings do.

My current employer flat out blocks certain websites.  One can then fill out a form to make a case for why one needs access to the specific website and possibly get the website unblocked for one's company computer.  I've been surprised at what seemingly random sites get blocked.  The most entertaining one recently was the internal help page for a software product that we developed and maintain.  I'm not sure what got that one blocked, but it's been blocked for months now.

We have this too. There's a third party algorithm that does the blocking, and on our campus it's set to block porn, gambling, that kind of thing. And our CT guy, whom I trust, has said that it's about blocking sites that are regularly associated with spreading malware rather than any attempt to police content.

I'm an admin now, and I cannot imagine spending my time reading a colleague's email unless I had to because there was some accusation of impropriety.

dr_codex

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2019, 02:01:43 PM »
We have an automated system that flashes up a warning if it thinks you’re trying to access a dubious website. You can continue but I’d guess that gets reported in some form - don’t know if the warnings do.

My current employer flat out blocks certain websites.  One can then fill out a form to make a case for why one needs access to the specific website and possibly get the website unblocked for one's company computer.  I've been surprised at what seemingly random sites get blocked.  The most entertaining one recently was the internal help page for a software product that we developed and maintain.  I'm not sure what got that one blocked, but it's been blocked for months now.

Same here, and now for the same reasons (malware). But it was started for moral reasons, and generated a lot of pushback.

Our email is not private. Nobody is routinely monitoring, but it can all be accessed by FOI request.

Online courses are not being monitored, as a rule, but supervisors can do this, given reason. I don't know if we have a formal process. Polly's actions (daily, then weekly, then periodic) seems reasonable. Institutionally, we were chastised at one point when a large proportion of students in some courses were receiving A's, and putting in less than 10 hours a semester. Nobody was fingered, that I know of, but it brought home the point that such reports could be generated. (Interthreadularity) I point this out to my own students; I don't grade on it, or even draw the conclusion that students aren't getting the information in different ways, but it does make the point that I can access their log-ons and activity.

We have this too. There's a third party algorithm that does the blocking, and on our campus it's set to block porn, gambling, that kind of thing. And our CT guy, whom I trust, has said that it's about blocking sites that are regularly associated with spreading malware rather than any attempt to police content.

I'm an admin now, and I cannot imagine spending my time reading a colleague's email unless I had to because there was some accusation of impropriety.
back to the books.

Dismal

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2019, 12:46:39 PM »
I am a mid-level administrator, chair of a big (on our campus) department. I am enrolled in the courses that use our LMS. I never check them unless I get a grade grievance at end of semester and faculty are scattered. I can usually go in, see if what the student is telling me lines up with the reality of what is in the gradebook (usually it doesn’t), and then resolve the situation without having to stress the faculty out or having the student take the complaint to the next level.

I hope that cloudwatcher wasn't implying that he or she changes grades to satisfy student complaints without consulting the faculty member.   That can definitely lead to problems if the faculty member finds out.  Where I work, a department head changed a grade for a student without consulting the professor and then the prof found out when the student told other students.  This complaint has gone through multiple levels of committees at the U with the prof suggesting she might go public in the future.  I myself sat in three days worth of hearings about it. 

Related to what can be found in our emails, on this same committee we were told that in response to a legal challenge (not related to the grade change incident) that a list of search terms would be provided by the lawyers to the U and a search through our emails based only on these search terms would occur. 

aside

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Re: Tell me about surveillance
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2019, 03:12:09 PM »
Email should never be thought of as private.  Neither should anything you do on your institution-owned computer, no matter where you do it.