UT Pilots New System

February 2, 2018

The University of Texas launched a pilot program that will monitor student-athletes on Canvas, allowing athletic academic coordinators more information on student-athletes' work in class. However, some professors do not like the idea.

According to The Daily Texan, the program will only include basketball players, in order to focus on a small number of students. Academic coordinators will be granted “observer-only” status, enabling them to view things such as course-related documents, students' grades, course syllabi and due dates, and other files. At the start of the semester, Maurie McInnis, Provost, sent an email to professors, informing them about the system and how it would work.

“The information that Athletics Academic Coordinators will be accessing on Canvas is not new and meets FERPA guidelines,” McInnis said in the email. “The goal is to modernize the current paper-based system to provide more timely feedback, when needed.”

Joe Williams, Director of Communications in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said all the student-athletes involved were told about the program, and agreed to participate. Both student-athletes and professors can opt out, but the university recommends full participation.

“The purpose of the pilot is to assess and evaluate the utility of the feature, and any recommendations on next steps will come from this pilot,” Williams said. “Student privacy is a critical component of this process, and the pilot will help us understand what issues students and faculty are concerned about.”

Philip Doty, Associate Dean for the School of Information, said he hadn't heard about the program until he got McInnis' email. He called the program “unnecessary and extraordinarily intrusive,” and said there were other ways for the athletic department to obtain the information.

“It’s unwanted and unsolicited surveillance of the students who will be observed,” Doty said. “These students are stigmatized — simply by being athletes. There’s a presumption that they cannot succeed academically and that the University has a right to intrude in their academic performance.”

Kolina Koltai, an assistant instructor in the School of Information, said she was automatically entered because she has a basketball player in one of her classes, but opted out for the sake of her students' privacy.

“There are (a) lot of private things within a classroom and between students and the teacher,” Koltai said. “I think it’s an unnecessary oversight and it seems like a violation of privacy that some students expect to have in a classroom environment. It wasn’t something that I thought would be beneficial for everyone.”

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