University gives frosh counselors personal data

If you are a freshman, your freshman counselor knows your SAT score, your high school honors courses, and how well you did on your Advanced Placement exams — whether you told him or not.

Few undergraduates know the practice exists, but freshman counselors are supplied with a packet containing the academic background of each freshman they advise. Because of recent concerns about the privacy and confidentiality of such a system, the University is currently reviewing this more than 18-year-old policy, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said.

The rationale behind giving freshman counselors transcripts and test scores of their counselees is to help them be more effective in helping their freshmen choose classes, Trachtenberg said.

The counselors also receive the first semester transcripts for their freshmen after they have completed the fall term.

“The freshman counselors talk a lot to freshmen about courses they’re going to take, and as such can presumably do a better job if they have background information,” Trachtenberg said.

Alana Feiler ’04 said she is skeptical of the validity of these grounds.

“I definitely don’t see the purpose,” said Feiler, who had been unaware that her freshman counselor was privy to her academic background. “Everyone takes the same classes in high school.”

Trachtenberg said that the policy is not a secret, and that “nobody is trying to hide anything.”

But Sherzana Sunderji ’03, a freshman counselor in Timothy Dwight College, said it is commonly understood that their freshmen, or anyone else for the matter, should not know they receive these packets.

“[The administrators] never said anything specific, but it is basically not known that we have that information,” Sunderji said.

Sunderji said she didn’t know that freshman counselors receive academic backgrounds of their counselees until she became a counselor herself.

“I had no clue,” Sunderji said. “Even the academic advisers that we have freshman year, they have that information too. I didn’t know that. — I kind of found it creepy.”

Jean Hoffman ’03, a civil liberties activist, said the distribution of student records to freshman counselors raised several issues regarding student privacy rights.

“Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this policy is the lack of discussion and awareness regarding questions of privacy,” Hoffman wrote in an e-mail. “I — fear the majority of Yale students are unaware that their freshman counselors had access to their private records and transcripts.”

Hoffman said she thought the issue was complicated by the fact that, unlike college deans and masters, freshman counselors serve not only as advisors, but also as peers.

Katie Cole ’03, a counselor in Saybrook College, said she has found the provided information useful at times, but doesn’t consult it often.

“I generally have faith that most of my students understand their limitations,” Cole said. “I can’t imagine looking at a student’s [information] and saying, ‘You didn’t do so well in the verbal section, I don’t think you should take that course.'”

Chijioke Okeke ’05, whose brother was a freshman counselor last year, said he thinks giving counselors the first semester grades of their charges can help with freshmen who are reluctant to share their problems.

“If the freshman is shy and doesn’t want to ask for help, it can help if the freshman counselor has that information as a way to know the freshman is having trouble,” Okeke said.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said it wouldn’t be right to ask counselors to advise their freshmen without giving them guidance.

“I have never heard of a freshman counselor making inappropriate use of information about their freshmen,” Brodhead said.

But regardless of how the information is used, freshman Brett Hernandez said, there still may be underlying privacy concerns.

“I think that [the counselors] are probably mature students and are not going to say, ‘This defines this person,'” Hernandez said. “I’m just wondering if when you submit your application, isn’t there some agreement that only the admissions people see it?”

Richard Shaw, the dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, said that once a student enrolls, his transcript is passed on to the registrar and its use is beyond the jurisdiction of the admissions office.

“To be frank, I don’t think there’s a college in the country that doesn’t share that information with their [advisers],” Shaw said.

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