Daily 49er

A potential misstep by administration is announced to academic senate

Administration accused of a policy violation for accessing faculty emails.

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One faculty member has claimed that Cal State Long Beach administration violated university policy by accessing her professional email account without her consent.

Douglas Domingo-Forasté, the California Faculty Association Long Beach Chapter president, first presented the breach to the academic senate on April 5.

He stated that during a grievance hearing April 3, one of the university’s lawyers attempted to use a faculty member’s email messages to disprove her claim.

“We had a grievance the other day and one of our faculty members, probably at the direction of the CSU lawyers, had all her emails gone through,” Domingo-Forasté said at the meeting. “They contained sensitive health information and they not only didn’t have her consent, she didn’t even know about it.”

Academic Senate Chair Norbert Schürer was present for Domingo-Forasté’s original announcement and weighed in on the potential breach via email.

“We don’t know a lot of facts of the case, like whether it was the Chancellor’s Office or somebody at [the university] who went through the faculty’s email,” Schürer said. “If it’s true that the CSULB administration is going through faculty emails, and if there is no compelling legal reason for it, that would be a serious breach of trust.”

The Daily 49er reached out to spokespeople from both CSULB and California State University, however both parties have declined to comment on the matter.

Jeff Bliss, executive director of media and digital affairs for Long Beach State University Office of Public Affairs stated he “can’t comment on issues that are being adjudicated or that are personnel issues.”

Under the California Public Records Act, any citizen can legally access governmental records, including CSU faculty emails, if an official request has been submitted. However, California State University and CSULB also have policies in place regarding electronic communications.

“We all know that are emails are not private in the sense that any citizen can make a request to see them under the Public Records Act,” said Norbert Schürer, academic senate chair. “But that’s very different from the administration (or an individual in the administration) unilaterally deciding to look at faculty email, which would not fall under the PRA.”  

During the meeting, Domingo-Forasté explained to the senate that according to current policies in place, the university must receive consent from any faculty member prior to accessing their emails, except in very special circumstances. The “Acceptable Use of CSULB Electronic Communication Systems and Services” policy statement projected onto the screen behind Domingo-Forasté as he spoke.

“They say they won’t [access] it without the holder’s consent, but sometimes they have the right to go through it without your permission,” Domingo-Forasté said. “When it’s required by law or there’s a violation of law or university policy or when there are ‘compelling circumstances’…That one is a little nerve wracking.”

Domingo-Forasté further explained the situation in a phone interview April 10. He said it remains unknown who accessed the faculty member’s emails and who gave authorization for the breach. Both the university’s Provost, Brian Jersky and the Vice President of Administration and Finance, Scott Apel, have denied doing so.

Domingo-Forasté said he couldn’t disclose any information about the affected party, but did express his personal feelings about the potential breach in confidentiality.

“[Administration feels] no shame whatsoever,” he said. “They say, ‘Well, you should know that we can get into any part of your email.’ And that, ‘Your email is a total open book for us.’ And I’ve said what about your policy? Doesn’t that mean anything?”

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