The Yale Daily News has an interesting scoop today–it turns out that the university has the authority to access a student’s e-mail account, without informing the student. The paper interviewed 73 students on campus; only three, according to the Daily News, “were aware of the specifics of Yale’s policy.” The paper’s report further indicates that Yale student regulation guides either bury notice of the policy or (in the case of graduate students) don’t mention the policy at all.
Some aspects of the policy, which has existed since 2000, are not unexpected. For instance, the university can access a student’s email account to comply with the demands of “federal, state, or local law,” or when the university has “reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of law” occurred.
But given the general disregard for due process at Yale since 2011, one component of the policy is highly problematic. Administrators can access student’s email accounts without notice to ensure compliance with “administrative rules,” or to produce evidence when “there are reasonable grounds to believe . . . a significant breach of University policy may have taken place.”
Among these university policies, of course, is Yale’s sexual assault policy, revised in 2011. That policy allows accusers who pursue an “informal” complaint to effectively control the process (does this mean the accuser can request Yale snoop on the accused student’s e-mail?), and provides minimal due process protections to students who go through a formal adjudication process.
The Daily News‘ revelation suggests that it’s within Yale’s authority to, without notice, search the e-mail account of any student subjected to the university’s Orwellian sexual assault disciplinary process. (Given that the university already is monitoring at least one professor without ever giving him a chance to even respond to a complaint, this indifference to due process isn’t surprising.) Yale’s undergraduate dean refused requests from the Daily News regarding how many e-mail searches she has approved, and whether she has ever denied a request to access a student’s e-mail.
Not exactly reassuring. But in a university whose administration seems to care little about the due process rights of its students, should we be surprised?