Campus, News

Academic Senate advises faculty to take communications offline

Members of Cal State University Long Beach’s Academic Senate advised faculty members to take their work-related messages offline during the AS meeting held last Thursday afternoon. The announcement came early on in a meeting that included a deluge of debate over a gender minority focused committee, news about CSU politicking in the nation’s capitol, and the passage of several new minors and language certificates.

Following the advice would mean that more university-related communications, including discussions about classes, teaching topics and scheduling changes, by faculty would no longer be discoverable during public records requests.

As employees of the State of California, all faculty communications on CSULB-owned devices and official email accounts had been subject to public scrutiny under the California Public Records Act of 1968. A recent State Supreme Court ruling broadened the scope of such requests to include information held on privately owned devices or private email services so long as it was related to official business. The court had ruled in favor of Ted Smith, who had sued the City of San Jose for records related to a property development proposal.

The advice was given to the representative body for CSULB faculty by Min Yao, the Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Information Technology Services at CSULB. Yao distributed a document to the attended crowd entitled “Communication on Personal Email Accounts and Personal Computing Devices,” before summarizing his department’s findings on the recent court ruling and taking questions from AS members attending the meeting.

“The third recommendation we have for you is write an email in the mindset that they can be reviewed by the public,” Yao said to the AS members. “In other words, if you’re not comfortable with writing something to the public, don’t write it in email or text messages. Instead, make a phone call or have a face to face discussion.”

According to Yao, a major reason given at the meeting for these recommendations was the preservation of faculty privacy. As the broadened scope of public records requests could now include personal devices and email services, these requests could reveal personal information about faculty members ancillary to the scope of a records request.

“I just wanted to reiterate that we (faculty, staff, administration) here at CSULB have no intention of keeping anything secret from the people of California, and I’m really bummed if that’s the message that came across or that gets out,” wrote Norbert Schurer, chair of the AS in an email sent to the Daily 49er. “We want to provide the best education for our students, which means having an inclusive and tolerant environment, which in turn means adapting information and communication to the appropriate audiences and messages.”

Yao also advised to AS members to take up a routine or use automatic deletion measures of emails and text messages on a weekly, monthly or 90 day schedule.

“That helps all of us for not being forced to be able to turn over some of the email and text messages,” Yao said. “Those are the recommendations we have for you. An important note is that upon receipt of public records requests, or sometimes a request to preserve evidence . . . then we will stop the deleting of email and text messages. Then we will have to hand over [the emails] for review. That’s the process.”

Schurer referred to a recent case at Orange Coast College where the OCC Republicans Club founder and president Joshua Recalde-Martinez had filed a public records request for emails by human sexuality instructor Olga Perez Stable Cox. Faculty at OCC were quoted in the Coast Report, OCC’s school paper, as saying they felt this was a “fishing expedition.”

“I think [the advice] was meant as . . . if there’s something that you think might be sensitive or easily misconstrued, or could preclude fishing expeditions, maybe use different modes of communication,” Schurer said after the meeting. “The thing is that these public records requests, recently, the ones that have happened in Southern California that I’m aware of, have been done with political agendas in mind. The more important part is that professors feel threatened. This is my interpretation, but it’s that these public records requests are pretty clearly meant as intimidation of professors.”

In addition to the advice on email maintenance, the AS meeting saw a flurry of activity on other issues.

Professor Christine Miller, chair of the California State University-wide AS, gave a talk about measures being pursued by CSULB Jane Close Conoley and herself on Capitol Hill. Conoley had originally been scheduled to speak at the meeting but was unable to attend because she was still on her trip to Washington D.C. that day, according to Miller. Among many issues, Miller spoke about requests to make Pell grants function on a year-round basis rather than applying only to spring and fall semesters.

A major debate ensued over alterations to the charge of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex and Campus Climate occurred with the assistance of many LGBTQI students in attendance. The students, including ASI Vice President Logan Vournas, had been invited by AS members who ceded their time to let them speak on the matter. Normally, only AS members are allowed to speak on policy discussions.

The alterations to the committee’s policy that were up for debate had to be tabled after several challenges came from associate professor Ruth Piker. Piker voiced concern about two specific paragraphs in the document’s language that may have forced members of the committee to out themselves or seemed to make the committee’s membership have a quota for particular gender or sexual identity subgroups. Even with a time extension, the ensuing debate went over time and the issue had to be tabled for the next meeting.

“As Academic Senate chair I cannot comment on that,” Schurer said. “That is something that each Academic Senator has to decide if they think this is creating a quota. And if it is creating a quota they have to think if this is a good thing or a bad thing. That is one argument that some of the senators made is that for each of the letters, we have to have somebody. Some people arguing against the motion were saying that would be a quota system, and that’s bad.”

Finally, the AS members were able to vote on the second reading of two motions that will create new minors degrees and certificates at CSULB. Multiple new minors in arts degrees for Ceramics, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture were approved as were language certificates for Spanish, Italian and French.

With the AS board’s passage, these minors and certificates only need Conoley’s signature before they become available to students in the fall.

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