At its meeting on April 3, 1978, the Faculty Senate requested the University Committee, in conjunction with the Administration, to develop a policy statement to govern faculty personnel records at the departmental level. An ad hoc committee was appointed jointly by the University Committee and the Administration to help work toward such a policy statement, and it submitted a report on January 18, 1979. The following statement of policy is drawn from the majority view in that report. Law and legal interpretation in the area of personnel records are subject to frequent change. This statement addresses the general principles that should govern university policy within the scope of the law as we currently understand it. It is intended to provide guidance to departments and to individual faculty members on how personnel files are to be maintained and on the rights and limits of access to them.
- PURPOSE AND CONTENTS OF DEPARTMENTAL PERSONNEL RECORDS. Departmental personnel files for each faculty member should contain only that information which is relevant to the faculty member’s status and performance as a faculty member, and to the commitments made to and by him/her–i.e., only that information which the university is required to know for the performance of valid and necessary university functions. No other information should be included without the agreement of the faculty member concerned, or except at his/her own initiative. If unsolicited material pertaining to a faculty member is included in the subject’s file as relevant, the faculty member should be informed that it has been so included.
- ACCESS TO PERSONNEL RECORDS.
- Within the limits contained in the section on confidentiality (below), the individual faculty member should have the right to inspect his/her own personnel file, the right to copy any portion of it, and the right to append a personal statement concerning the accuracy, relevance, or applicability of any material in it.
- Within the university, including the Departmental Executive Committee, access to a faculty member’s personnel file by anyone other than the subject should be on a “need to know” basis–that is, access should be limited to circumstances in which the information sought is essential to a legitimate university purpose.
- Absent a valid subpoena or court order, departments should not disclose contents of a personnel file that are not public by law to anyone outside the university without the faculty member’s prior consent. When disclosure of information other than that which is public by law is made to anyone outside the university, a record of such disclosure (a so-called “audit trail”) should be kept.
- Faculty members should not have access to letters of recommendation from individuals outside the university which have been obtained only by making an express promise of confidentiality to the individual providing the recommendation. Departments should maintain a confidential file within the subject’s file for this purpose. This is the only exception to the principle of maximum openness of a file to its subject, and it is justified by the compelling importance of acquiring honest evaluations. Departments have the obligation, however, continually to advise faculty on their progress toward tenure or promotion, and in pursuit of this obligation and in protection of the individual, departments should discuss the adverse comments contained in outside evaluations without disclosing either their verbatim texts or their authors, but disclosing details sufficient to allow the faculty member in question to make an informed reply. If, in the judgment of the department, such disclosure would reveal the identity of the author, the department should either obtain a waiver of confidentiality from the author, or exclude the letter from consideration.
- Confidential letters of recommendation should not be removed from a personnel file once they have served their original purpose, because they may be needed at some future time to document the basis for personnel decisions. In addition, State law does not permit the destruction of material that has properly been treated as part of a personnel file.