Do you want to be a privacy officer?

After serving as chief privacy officer for the past year and a half, I will be retiring from Wayne State University at the end of the winter semester. We have been given permission to search for a replacement, so I thought I’d use this platform to say a little about what a Privacy Officer does.

The simplest way to describe it is to link to my Educause blog on “A day in the life of a Chief Privacy Officer.”

However, if you’re interested in the tl;dr1 version, allow me to give you the “elevator speech.” Universities, like nearly all other organizations, hold information about any and all people they deal with. For universities this includes data about students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors. In 2017 it tends to be electronic records, although there are still thousands of pieces of paper with data on them as well.

Some of those records are sensitive. This means that the information could harm the person it refers to if it is released, or that its unauthorized release would subject the university to legal penalties because the data is protected by law. Or both. For example, social security numbers have become toxic (as we say in the privacy world) because those numbers can be used to commit identity theft. Student records such as grades are protected by the federal law known as FERPA and could cost the university embarrassment and money if they are released to unauthorized persons.

The privacy officer’s job is to help the university keep those records safe from inappropriate release by developing policies, by ensuring that employees are trained in how to apply those policies, and by reviewing how new methods of storing data (such as new versions of Banner or Academica) are configured to ensure the data therein is properly locked up.

This means serving on a lot of committees, meeting with administrators and researchers storing sensitive data, and speaking to groups such as the Academic Senate and the Administrative Council. It also means working closely with the Office of General Counsel, Internal Audit, the Associate Provost for Academic Personnel, and serving on the leadership team of C&IT.

If you think you might be interested in learning more about this position, you can find it listed at under position number 042601.

1 This popular internet acronym stands for ‘too long; didn’t read’. Usually an expression of disapproval.

Maybe our students aren’t so savvy after all

And maybe we aren’t either.

An article in this week’s Chronicle suggests that we’re on shaky grounds if we assume our students know tons about how the Internet works and what that means for their (and our) future.

A couple of faculty  at Northwestern (Eszter Hargittai and Brayden King) teach a course called ‘Managing your Online Reputation’, where they encourage students to find out what the Internet knows about them and think about what it’s advertising to the world.

Their idea is that students should be encouraged not only not to post videos of stupid things they might have done, but also to think about posting (tweeting, instagramming, tumblr-ing) positive views about their skills, attainments, knowledge and capabilities in a way that the usual searches will turn up not only nothing bad, but rather some good stuff.

The course was based partly on research by one of the faculty (Hargittai) that showed that, contrary to what many of us believe, many students today know less about online life than most of us. For example,

about one-third of the survey respondents could not identify the correct description of the ‘bcc’ email function. More than one-quarter said they had not adjusted the privacy settings or content of social-media profiles for job-seeking purposes.

My experience has been that I have a few students who are really tech-savvy, a few who have no idea what they are doing, and the rest somewhere in between. And, of course,  being tech savvy is a moving target. I’ve been doing email since 1990, so I certainly understand how that works. But I only joined Instagram about a month ago, and Tumblr  a few weeks earlier than that, mostly to follow a nephew who’s traveling around the world and documenting it on Tumblr.

On the third hand, I actually understand what the Heartbleed vulnerability is exploiting (and I even understand what that last sentence means…).

Anyway, some food for thought.

And, for a contrary view, try this. And for an even more contrary view on brand-building, there’s this.


Net Neutrality Dissed

Some of my fan base may recall that I’ve posted on this topic

here and here and here

On Jan. 14 the US Court of Appeals for Washington DC ruled that the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules were impermissible, because the FCC did not have the authority to regulate the Internet. Essentially it ruled that Verizon isn’t a ‘telephone company’ (like the old Laugh-In skit where Lily Tomlin said: ‘you’re dealing with the Telephone Company’)

Instead, the judge ruled that Verizon is an ISP (an internet service provider) and therefore not a ‘common carrier’, so the FCC lacks jurisdiction.

Naturally many people have concluded that the end is nigh, and that poor people won’t be able to afford the Internet. Or that Comcast won’t let you get to Google. Or Apple. Or maybe Apple won’t let you get to Google. Of course, prior to the FCC trying to regulate in this way nobody could find an instance of where this actually happened. So I’m not horrified. YMMV.

News reports available here:

New York Times

Ziff Davis Net

Information Week

Tech Solutions—A New Computing Help Facility

Starting May 28 C&IT and the Medical School IT department (MSIS) are introducing a new website for all your computing support needs. Not everybody was aware of (the ‘Knowledgebase’) but those who used it could find answers to many frequently asked questions (‘How do I set up my iPhone to connect to Wayne Connect?’, ‘How do I add an assignment in Blackboard?’, ‘How do I connect to WSU-SECURE after resetting my password?’ ‘How do I set up Call Forwarding?’, etc.).

The old Knowledgebase is being replaced by a new site called Tech Solutions. You can reach it, reasonably enough, at If you go there you will see a set of instructions, a drop-down you can use to categorize your search and a search box.

If you’d prefer to phone the Help Desk, or chat with it there are instructions for that. And if you’d like to submit a question or report a problem online there is a button entitled New Request where you can do that. You’ll need to log-in with your WSU AccessID and password and there will be a form to fill in.

Once you have logged in, every help request is tracked, and solutions that the Help Desk works out that have not previously been documented are continuously added to the knowledge base so anybody can find them later. Your request is converted into a ‘ticket’, and you can see a list of all your tickets at any time (of course, you can’t see other people’s tickets unless you work for the Help Desk or are otherwise assigned to fix something).

The hope is that Tech Solutions will be a one-stop-shopping solution for all your IT support/service needs.

Here is a screen shot of the front page. The drop-down and the search box are circled in red.


Tech Solutions Front Page

Don’t walk while texting (or emailing or browsing…)

On Thursday October 25 I was walking across campus, around 1:30, heading towards a meeting and trying to deal with an issue with a recent travel request. While attempting to look up a phone number on my smartphone I tripped over the edge of a small platform and landed on my knees while my head hid a planter with a pebbly surface:

Planter under Prentis BuildingAs you might imagine, this did considerable damage to my face, and attracted a crowd. Some wonderful people from the Rec Center came with a first-aid kit and cleaned up most of the blood, but decided to call an ambulance, as this was potentially a closed-head brain injury. Never got a chance to get their names, but within five minutes an ambulance came and transported me to the Emergency Room in Receiving Hospital. I spent about four hours there, and, after a CAT scan it was decided that nothing was broken, but I was told to have someone watch me overnight and wake me every two hours to make sure I wasn’t experiencing post-traumatic brain swelling.

In the end, I was very lucky, and got off with a bad scrape on my forehead:

Abraded face


I took this picture with the offending instrument immediately after I was discharged from the hospital, and was waiting to be driven back to my car. I look much better here than I did the next morning, when my right eye was completely swollen shut and I was developing a ‘sympathetic’ black eye on the left side as well.

Almost all the ‘blackening’ is now gone, and there are only scabs and scars left, as of today. But the ‘take-home’ is very simply–don’t text and walk. It’s dangerous. I could have been badly hurt, not just ‘defaced’.

End of lesson for today.

Welcome New Faculty! (and a ‘welcome back’ to old faculty, like me)

Greetings! Welcome to Wayne State. In the next few weeks and months you’ll be bombarded with tons of information about every imaginable aspect of being a faculty member here at Wayne. I’d just like to add to the deluge by introducing myself and my role at C&IT (the central computing division of Wayne State).

I’m a faculty member in the Linguistics program, with an appointment as full Professor in English. I work on phonological theory and phonetics. But I have a (not so secret) second life as Faculty Liaison to Computing and Information Technology. Part of my role is to serve as an advocate for faculty issues inside C&IT, and another part is to explain C&IT ‘stuff’ to the users.

I’m interested in general policy issues on computing and academia, and wider questions such as how computing interacts with questions of privacy, copyright, online teaching, mobile technology, the usefulness and safety of ‘the cloud’ and similar questions.

I write a blog entry on one or another of these issues roughly once a week during the semester, and less frequently over breaks and the summer period, although I’m on campus pretty much all of the time.

C&IT provides the basic networking that permits you to connect to the world of the Internet, and runs the central (‘enterprise’) services that keep the university going: Blackboard, Pipeline, and Banner (a system you will probably only interact with indirectly, but keeps track of all official university data, from grades to payroll to which health insurance option you have chosen). Blackboard and Pipeline get their data from Banner, but most faculty don’t deal with it directly.

You can get a general sense of what C&IT does here, and the complete list can be found here (scroll down for the complete list).

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns related to computing on campus and I’ll try to help, either by directing you to the correct point of contact, or, in some cases, getting things fixed myself. You can find me either in C&IT or in English.

Prof Tech has a new home

Please note that the URL for this blog has changed. I wanted to make it clear that I am not simply a spokesman for C&IT. My role is to serve as liaison between the faculty and C&IT, and I need to be free to comment on the activities of both, and probably to annoy both, although hopefully not at the same time.

We have a new home!

The URL for this blog has changed. I wanted to make it clear that I am not simply a spokesman for C&IT. My role is to serve as liaison between the faculty and C&IT, and I need to be free to comment on the activities of both, and probably to annoy both, although hopefully not at the same time. Additionally this will give the blog a permanent home with a mnemonic name that should be easier to find:

It’s likely that I will be posting on a somewhat irregular basis for the next month or so, so consider setting up a bookmark, or using an RSS feed. If you’re not familiar with those, you can read about them here:

As you can see, you can use a dedicated reader, a Google facility or some web browsers (such as Firefox) allow you to set one up as a bookmark. You can even set up a mailbox in your Wayne Connect account that will treat each new post as a mail message. Instructions are

here (search for RSS).

Welcome to Proftech!

Geoff Nathan is a Professor of Linguistics in the English Department, and the Faculty Liaison to C&IT, a dual role he has held since 2002. For almost fifteen years he has schooled himself in the technology, politics and sociology of university computing. In addition to serving on the C&IT Leadership Team he is active in the national university computing organization EDUCAUSE.

ProfTech will have several goals. I expect to serve as a conduit to and from C&IT on issues of importance to Wayne, and especially with respect to faculty. I hope to highlight aspects of C&IT’s services that might be of interest to faculty, explore new technologies and also convey your concerns in these areas to C&IT’s management team. In addition I will talk about some of the issues facing IT nation- and world-wide. Many of these issues have larger ramifications in philosophy, politics and lifestyles, and I follow these developments and wory about how they affect academia.

Under most circumstances I will welcome comments on my blog, with the sole restriction being that civility should be maintained.