Graduate dean apologizes for group e-mail with private information

Thursday, October 14, 2010 | 7:20 p.m. CDT; updated 6:29 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 9, 2011

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a response issued Friday by MU.

COLUMBIA — Be careful with your electronic privacy, MU Graduate School Dean George Justice often advises students. But his words came back and bit him.

At 9:31 p.m. Wednesday, graduate students at MU received an unintended e-mail from Justice about a student’s decision to withdraw from the university. The e-mail — accidentally sent to all graduates — included the student’s name, e-mail address and comments about the student's "mental distress."

Justice sent another e-mail to graduate students at 6:19 a.m. Thursday apologizing for his mistake.

According to his second e-mail, the student had e-mailed Chancellor Brady Deaton and copied the graduate student list. But no graduate students received that e-mail because the student didn’t have authorization to activate the e-mail list.

“However, it made it to the ‘cc’ box when I hit ‘reply all.’ And because I do have authorization to use the listserv, both the original and my message went out," Justice wrote in his e-mail apology.

Several graduate students replied with expressions of "distress," Justice said.

The e-mail string included an explanation from the student about her reason for withdrawing from MU.

“I’m extremely sorry about it,” Justice said in an interview on Thursday afternoon. “I’m a big believer in privacy rights. I’m sorry to have been the cause of this student’s privacy being violated. I don’t take any student’s situation lightly. ... It’s very upsetting that I didn’t show the student the highest amount of respect by not being careful who I sent the private information to.”

The university, in an official response issued Friday, said it will "review its training on handling sensitive information" as a result of the accidental e-mail. 

"The university deeply regrets any distress caused to anyone as a result of this email," the release stated. "The dean made an inadvertent mistake when sending an email that included personal information about a student; it was intended to be a private communication expressing concern for a student."

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