[for Stanford Staffers]

University Policy Infractions
with Internet Group Lists

From Jack Truher


Summary of Applicable University Guide Memos

http://adminguide.stanford.edu/66.pdf Administrative Guide Memo 66 use of electronic communication forums

http://adminguide.stanford.edu/28_3.pdf Administrative Guide Memo 28.3 on Directories and Distribution Lists

http://adminguide.stanford.edu/62.pdf Administrative Guide Memo 62 Computer and Network Usage Policy

http://adminguide.stanford.edu/28_6.pdf Administrative Guide Memo 28.6 on Protection of Property.

http://adminguide.stanford.edu/1.pdf Administrative Guide Memo 1 on Code of conduct item 8: Use of University Resources

and here's a related policy on use or misuse of the Stanford's Guest Wireless Accounts

"IT Services tracks guest accounts to the sponsoring SUNet ID. If a report about misuse of the network by a guest is filed, the sponsor is responsible for their guest's behavior."


Under California's at-will employment law, Stanford may enforce various policy boundaries at its prerogotive on use of University resources, time, attention, computers and networks, etc. Policy interpretations and applications can be ambiguous and often ignorred, but they can still be applied at will. University property enforcement can be infrequent or sporadic, and responsive to office politics, but disciplines do happen -- sometimes unexpectedly, abruptly, and harshly. Whether charges are initiated by peers, management, or HRP, the University's lawyers are instantly involved and have often investigated and charged employees aggressively, knowing the employees have no resources to counter the University's wealth. Such issues are not "small claims court" items.

University Policy on use or misuse of University Property or resources for personal use or personal is often in bold self-contradiction when comparing practices to policy. Employees each have to protect their personal interests, based on their various risk tolerances. Employees who push University policy boundaries put themselves at risk of "selective prosecution". This could ultimate embarrass and damage the institution. In absense of enforcement, Stanford's policy constitutes irresponsible neglect, which can be expected to catch up novice or foolish employees who think that "since everybody is doing it...". Eventually the managers will wake up. Employees who fail to grasp the prevailing contradictions have been here, for what its worth, warned.

The Guide Memos listed above are quite strict with regard to person use or gain with University Resources. In earlier decades, disciplinary actions were quite common. But more recently, employees and the University also have some "wiggle-room", that either could use to defend whatever "unexpected" disciplinary action might come after a hostile oversight review. It is item 8 of Guide Memo 1, "Use of University Resources, in the University Code of Conduct. Here is item 8 on page 4, where I have made bold the sentence of consequence:


University resources must be reserved for business purposes on behalf of the University. They may not be used for personal gain, and may not be used for personal use except in a manner that is incidental, and reasonable in light of the employee's duties. University resources include, but are not limited to, the use of University systems, such as telephone systems, data communication and networking services, and the Stanford domain for electronic communication forums; and the use of University equipment, such as computers and peripherals, University vehicles and other equipment; and the use of procurement tools such as purchasing cards and petty cash; and the time and effort of other staff, students and others at Stanford.

This essay leaves many related issues unaddressed. Return later to this page. I will reorganize and add to some of these topics. Among them:

  1. Does the University consistently provide "warnings" about employee misconduct in progress? Are warnings prejudicial to employees warned? (Short answer is Yes.
  2. What are typical punishments. Are there reasonable opportunities for appeal? (Short answer is No.)
  3. Why does the University need to restrict content of its internet group forums, limiting commercial, partisan political, and other issues specified in section 1-c of the Guide Memo copied below. (There is no short answer.)
  4. and more such questions as readers may suggest

Gathered below are some of the pertinent University policies applied to all Stanford staff who may exercise information sharing on-line about commercial enterprises, home businesses, personal activities, or partisan politics. The definition of these terms are slippery and are applied inconsistently at best. In practice, University rank trumps all other considerations.

from Stanford University Administrative Guide Memos



Administrative Guide Memo 66
Establishes policy for use of electronic communication forums at Stanford.

December 1, 2000 Page 1 of 1

Chat Rooms and Other Forums Using Stanford Domains or Computer Services


From time to time, University departments, faculty, students and others may host electronic communication forums, such as chat rooms, newsgroups, bulletin boards or websites, whereby various parties may contribute their thoughts on various subjects and where such communication is made available for others to read and comment upon. For purposes of this policy, these sites are collectively referred to as "forums."

a. Connection With University Activities : Forums that either use the Stanford.edu, Stanford.org or other Stanford domains or use University computing facilities should be established only in connection with legitimate activities of the University.

Administrative Guide Memo 28.6 on Protection of Property.
This Guide Memo outlines departmental responsibilities for safeguarding University property.

December 15, 2005 Page 1 and 2


University property may not be used for personal purposes or for personal gain. See Guide Memo 82.1,
Public Events, http://adminguide.stanford.edu/82_1.pdf, and the Public Events Policy and Practice Manual for policy on use of University property for public events.

Administrative Guide Memo 28.3 on Directories and Distribution Lists
The University maintains lists of names, addresses, telephone numbers and electronic mail accounts of individuals and organizations of importance to the University. This Guide Memo sets forth policies concerning use of such University data and describes the major lists used to conduct the University's business.

March 15, 2005 Page 1 & 2 of 4

section 1

c. Lists for University Purposes : Distribution lists not publicly available may be used only for University purposes.

Such lists include both mailing lists and electronic mail distribution lists including those created by members of the Stanford community from University sources. Use of the distribution lists (including production of listings of file contents, production of mailing labels and online use of electronic
mail distribution lists) is authorized only when all of the criteria below are met:
The organization is responsible to the President of the University;
The use is for official University business; and
When such use is consistent with the University responsibilities of the individual requesting or using the list.
University distribution lists may not, for example:

Be used for personal, partisan political, or commercial purposes
Be provided to persons or entities outside the University
Be used for promotional purposes or solicitations by other than Stanford University
d. Department Responsibilities : Departments are responsible for ensuring that any lists they maintain are used in conformity with University policies. In addition to this Guide memo, the following contain applicable policies:
Administrative Guide Memo 15.1, Political Activities, http://adminguide.stanford.edu/15_1.pdf
Administrative Guide Memo 15.2, Conflict of Interest, http://adminguide.stanford.edu/15_2.pdf
Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest, Research Policy Handbook, 4.1, http://www.stanford.edu/dept/DoR/rph/4-1.html
Administrative Guide Memo 62, Computer and Network Usage Policy, http://adminguide.stanford.edu/62.pdf
e. Exceptions : Any request for University data for use other than in accordance with this policy must have the approval of the President of the University or his/her designee.

About Contradictions between Policy and Practice

Proper use of group email lists at Stanford can be puzzling.

It is appropriate for younger staff, particularly, to be aware that if one observedly steps over a Stanford policy boundary, the Staffer becomes vulnerable indefinitely to any other employee who may have a personal axe to grind. If anybody reports misconduct on anybody else in these times, the bureaucracy feels obliged to investigate, and if any obscure law, or even policy, is violated, then some official response needs to be taken. What happens next is uncertain, but office politics plays a role in our culture of winners and losers.

Policy on use and mis-use were developed in earlier years, though they are revised from time to time. Two developments are worth noting:

1. Legal changes which changed the big research universities from centers of "objective" learning and basic science to "profit centers" - has produced all manner of unresolved conflict . Shifting balance of distributed power often is played out in university office politics entrapments. Sensitivities and enforcement moved progressively since 1980, when lines got fuzzy between commercial and basic (or pure) on the farm, formerly revered as an Ivory Tower.



2. Internet browsers appeared on desktops in the mid-90s, or earlier, with every screen a billboard

About the author

Over 30 years of staff employment at Stanford, I observed, and sometimes assisted in defense of employees who had inadvertently or carelessly gotten entangled in some policy violation. I was always scrupulous to avoid pushing past boundaries of written policy, and was never charged with any violation of policy.

Jack remains interested in the well-being of Staffers, where, until the recent year, I was carried on Staffers' Board Member web Directory. Now one of Staffers' retiree contingent, I still follow employee relations issues on campus and at SLAC, occasionally provide a little advice to both active and retired employees, and have assisted historians as a resource person on Stanford employee issues. Stanford has access to all employee email; some may do better to write me from home, off the University network.

Staffers forum group is playing a risky game with common misuse of the campus internet for personal interest and fee for service, sales of personal item, etc. But obviously until there is some enforcement, as with highway speed violators, there will be speeders. Jack personally doesn't give a hoot, except for those poor devil employees who may wrongly misconstrue the difference between practice and policy.

I write this essay reluctantly, havng long been an advocate of freedom of expression, well beyond levels currently allowed by management or by staff self-censorship. In my world, employees would be open advocates everywhere on matters of public policy, personal opinion, and even convenient commerce. There would be more tolerance for differing perspectives and fewer adverse consequences. The University's policy on use of the internet by employees is threatening, while vague, with wide variation of real practices. Enforcement may be infrequent, but can be harsh. Some Stanford employees could be misled by peer practices as to acceptable use of the group lists. My comments here are intended to inform those who would choose not to take unnecessary personal risks.

-- Jack Truher