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Despite Student Concerns, College Says BSC Move Will Not Affect Privacy

UPDATED: April 17, 2015, at 12:05 a.m.

Students have raised concerns that the Bureau of Study Counsel's administrative move to the College's purview may compromise their privacy, but the College maintains that it will not.

Administrators will not use information gathered from students’ meetings with BSC counselors for disciplinary purposes, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an email.

Although sensitive student information may be shared among the BSC and College administrators on a need-to-know basis, “it is important for students to be able to have private conversations about their thoughts and feelings with knowledgeable advisors,” Dane wrote on behalf of Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris.

BSC Open Forum
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris discusses new changes to the Bureau of Study Counsel at an open forum.

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Dane also wrote that “the discussion of, say, integrity violations with a BSC staff member will not lead to disciplinary action, and BSC staff will not share this information with anyone without the student’s permission.”

Harris could not be reached for comment Thursday evening when asked whether BSC tutors and counselors will simply be not required to report sensitive information, or whether they will be explicitly prohibited from reporting it. In addition, he could not be reached for comment on whether the BSC will only refrain from implicating students not already in disciplinary cases, or if protection of privacy would also extend to students already called before the Administrative Board.

During a two-hour town hall meeting earlier this month, students raised concerns about potential changes in student privacy that might arise from the BSC’s administrative transfer from Harvard University Health Services, governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, to the College, governed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

While under UHS for the past 11 years, the BSC was subject to HIPPA, which “helps protect the confidentiality and security of healthcare information,” Dane wrote in her email. Under the College administration, the BSC will be subject to FERPA, which “protects the privacy of student education records,” according Dane.

HIPAA prevents student information—including whether the student had made use of BSC services—from being shared with administrators and faculty members outside of UHS without written consent from the student.

FERPA will allow BSC staff members “to share information with other professionals within the College on a strict need-to-know basis,” Dane wrote, adding that “this is the same high standard of privacy that applies to student records, financial aid status, and other student information.”

One of the BSC’s services, peer-tutoring, was never governed by HIPAA, but, rather, was subject to FERPA, according to Dane.

“The BSC will continue with its current policy, which is not to inform faculty about a student’s participation in peer tutoring without the student’s permission,” Dane wrote.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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