Requests for Information on Members of the University Community

PDAD&C #19, 2001-2002


TO:   Principals, Deans, Academic Directors and Chairs
FROM:   Adel Sedra, Vice-President and Provost
Angela Hildyard, Vice-President, Human Resources
DATE:   October 22, 2001
RE:   Requests for Information on Members of the University Community

The events of September 11th have raised the question of how the University would handle requests from different authorities for information about members of the University community: students, faculty, managers, and staff. These are important issues, touching on matters of security and privacy, and the appropriate way to offer both legitimate cooperation and protection for the rights of individuals.

It is important to understand that the University has policies in place to guide the response to requests of this kind. In the first instance, the University of Toronto Policy on Access to Information and Protection of Privacy provides the standards on freedom of information and privacy protection which reflect the underlying principles of the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and applies them in a manner appropriate to the University setting.

For students, former students and alumni, the University Policy on Access to Student Academic Records indicates that the student's consent is implied for the disclosure of only the academic division(s), degree program(s), registered session(s), degree(s) received and date(s) of convocation. Any other information contained in the official student academic record shall be released only to other persons or agencies with the student's prior express written consent, or on the presentation of a court order, or "otherwise under compulsion of law" which requires the involvement of a competent authority in Canada.

The confidentiality of personnel files relating to faculty members and librarians is similarly protected, and Article 10 of the Memorandum of Agreement between the University and UTFA provides that "No document contained in any file of any faculty member or librarian shall be released or made available to any other person or institution, except for internal University administrative purposes, without the express written consent of such faculty member or librarian, or as required by law."

In the case of personnel records of members of the administrative staff, the Policies for Exempt Confidential Staff and for Professional and Managerial Staff (approved by the Business Board on May 7, 2001) contain the following similar passage: "No information or records contained in the Personnel File of a staff member shall be released or made available to any other person or institution without the written consent of the staff member, except, as permitted, under the University Policy on Access to Information and Protection of Privacy, or as may be required by law." We can also assume that the regime in the collective agreements with unionized staff provides similar protection.

By enacting confidentiality policies and imposing confidentiality regimes, the University makes a contract, either expressly or by implication, with each member of the group whose records are protected, and the University has an obligation to observe and enforce the confidentiality regimes it has created. While it cannot be ruled out completely that cases may arise where the facts presented appear to be so compelling that an emergency response is justified, the University will be asking any authorities requesting information to proceed in accordance with the provisions outlined above.

The challenge we face is the consistent ability to determine whether a request for information complies with all the legal requirements governing the release of information, and respects the provisions in place to protect the rights of individuals. The University recognizes its responsibility to release information when legally required to do so, while at the same time acknowledging its obligation not to violate its own policies. It follows, therefore, that a measure of expertise is required to determine the validity of such requests. The University is mindful of the fact that everyone who might be asked for information cannot be expected to possess the necessary expertise on the relevant policies and their implications.

The President, Vice-Presidents, Principals and Deans met to discuss this issue and agreed to ask the community for cooperation in ensuring that we proceed in the best interests of the members of our University. For the present time and until further notice, with the exception of routine information requests to the University of Toronto Police Service, all questions and requests for documentation on any member of the University community will be directed to Vice-President (Human Resources) Angela Hildyard. This will ensure a consistent approach with the requisite measure of oversight, and allow for the involvement of those with responsibilities in these areas including, among others, Ian Orchard (Vice-Provost Students), Karel Swift (University Registrar & Director of Admissions and Awards), Vivek Goel (Vice-Provost Faculty) and Rivi Frankle (Executive Director Alumni & Development), as well as seeking legal advice as necessary. Vice-President Hildyard will also be working with University Secretary Louis Charpentier to monitor compliance with the provisions of the University's policies.

Thank you.