Virginia law does away with university directories for student privacy

A screenshot of the MyVCU portal, displaying the widget in which students can indicate whether they want to share their contact information.

Nia Tariq, News Editor

A screenshot of the MyVCU portal, displaying the widget in which students can indicate whether they want to share their contact information.

The VCU directory, also known as the “phonebook” is no longer active — hence, gone are the days of typing the beginning of a colleague’s VCU email address into Gmail and the result conveniently popping up.

Approved April 9 and effective July 1, a law passed by the General Assembly restricts universities from disclosing personal information about students without written consent.

“Students will no longer be able to find contact information for another student through phonebook.vcu.edu or the people search on the VCU website,” stated a Virginia House Bill 1 web page provided by the Office of the Provost. “University online applications — such as Blackboard, email, room reservation systems and Service Desk — will no longer enable non-employees to search for student eID and email addresses, including the auto-complete feature of email addresses currently used in many systems.”

As amended, HB1 prohibits the public disclosure of student information that was previously available in directories. The list of private information includes students’ name; sex; address; phone number; date and place of birth; major field of study; participation in officially recognized activities and sports; dates of attendance and degrees and awards received, according to HB1.

“VCU is committed to following all Virginia and federal laws,” said Bernard Hamm, university registrar and director of the Office of Records and Registration.

Affecting all students from undergraduate to professional, HB1’s intention at securing personal information may make the process of students communicating with one another outside of class more difficult.

There is a dissenting opinion among some students, like senior Jordan Glisan, that emails should be allowed to be shared, but other personal information like social media and phone numbers should be kept safe.

“With there being over 30,000 students at VCU, it’s getting very hard to search for students by email,” said Glisan, a senator for the National Society of Black Engineers at VCU and president of the VCU chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, who relies on emails to send out important organizational information to his peers.

Even university faculty and staff, unless provided written consent, are legally not allowed to share student contact information with colleagues or other students.

“I know professors and teachers don’t like it,” Glisan said. “In one of my first classes this semester, my teacher made it clear for us to go into myVCU and give the university permission to share contact information in order to make class communications easier.”

Faculty and staff are still searchable in the directory, found at phonebook.vcu.edu. “Eligible students” — or those who are at least 18 or emancipated minors — can consent in writing to have the university make their information accessible.

There is a shortcut for students who wish to make their information public. Consent can be provided by simply logging into myVCU, clicking the “Student” tab at the top of the page and toggling the switch in the upper left corner.

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