Originally created 04/12/98

Professors fear eavesdropping into campus e-mail



Perhaps not surprisingly, the discontent about the Internet's advances into academic life seems more prevalent among senior faculty, brought up in an era when ideas were scratched out on legal pads. Although most seem to have embraced the digital revolution to some degree -- dashing off electronic missives to colleagues around the globe -- even near-universal e-mail systems are suspect to some.

After years of wrangling, the University of California system is about to adopt a policy to reassure faculty that administrators will be able to monitor e-mail over the campuses' computer networks only in suspected cases of sexual harassment, criminal activity, violations of collective bargaining contracts and for various emergencies. In practice, e-mail monitoring only occurs a handful of times a year on any single campus.

That's not enough peace of mind for some professors. Sally Stein, a UC Irvine art historian, wants no worry that someone might be eavesdropping.

"I don't engage in extremely private communications with my students, but sometimes things come up," she said. "This is particularly true with undergraduates, who are late adolescents sorting out a lot of things in their lives."

Her solution? She switched to a commercial e-mail system.