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By Susan Carroll and Angela Romano
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 13, 1998

Campus voices CatCard concerns


Dan Hoffman
Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA business economics freshman Travis Klein, a member of the Young Libertarians, addresses President Peter Likins during the CatCard forum on Friday afternoon in the Memorial Student Union. Klein said he "smashed the chip and put a magnet to the strip" in protest of the card.

A simple "I'm sorry" accompanied by a handful of concessions didn't appease UA students and employees Friday as they faced off with UA officials at a forum on the controversial CatCard.

"I'm really, honestly, personally apologizing," University of Arizona President Peter Likins said to more than 100 angry people who packed the Memorial Student Union Rincon Room. "This is not only about the CatCard - it's about a relationship of trust."

Likins' heartfelt apology seemed to fall on deaf ears as students, faculty and staff voiced personal accounts of CatCard trauma.

"There are some of us in the university community here who are mad as hell that this information was released," John Barentine, a physics senior. "The administration did such a poor job of handling the situation, and we're not afraid to say that."

Likins brought in a pantheon of administrators to note community concerns and try to waylay fears. The panel, which included CatCard Director Liz Taylor, Chief Budget Officer Dick Roberts, UA Attorney Michael Proctor and Controller of Financial Services Ron Smith, endured heated criticism from the crowd.

Confounded community members called for reforms ranging from destruction of the CatCard to future restrictions on the use of private information.

"The CatCard should be totally demolished, removed from the environment and replaced," said William Hoffmann, a Steward Observatory astronomer. "I request a dignified, appropriate identification card in its place."

Changes to the beleaguered identification are in the works, Taylor told the crowd.

Taylor said the cards' Smart Chips can be disabled and random numbers used as identifiers in lieu of Social Security numbers. Limitations of the UA's computer systems, however, preclude people on university payroll or students receiving financial aid from omitting their Social Security numbers from the university's records.

Travis Klein, a business economics freshman, deactivated his card himself.

"I smashed the chip and put a magnet to the strip," he said to roaring laughter and applause from the audience.

Taylor said students and employees can also request that their digitized signatures be deleted from the CatCard database. Details about the removal of personal information were not offered at the forum.

Many students, faculty and staff members insisted their trust was violated when UA officials released their Social Security numbers to MCI Telecommunications Corp. and Saguaro Credit Union in March.

"We entrusted the administration with our personal information and we expect them to be caretakers of it and act within the law," Andrew Tubbiolo, a physics senior, said.

Tubbiolo's trust hit hard times after he called MCI and was asked to confirm his Social Security number. Tubbiolo said he had never given his Social Security number to the company, but someone had.

University officials admitted in mid-March the release violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects most "personally identifiable information" kept by universities.

Administrators quickly recalled the information from both companies and said they have received written agreements assuring that the information was purged from their computers and not disseminated to anyone else.

James Cook, senior business manager for the Office of Arid Lands Studies, said he didn't think the university community could relax with that assurance.

Other students called for a record of what the companies did with the information, what other information was released to the companies and a full investigation of the administrators involved.

Many went as far as to call for the removal of UA officials who participated in the release.

"The confidence of this community will not be regained unless some people are seriously reassigned or fired," Hoffmann said.

Barentine called for "punishment for all who broke the law."

But Likins said he did not plan to penalize UA officials for the release.

"If I thought people were deliberately lying and breaking the law, then I would mete out punishment, " Likins said. "These people (CatCard officials) have taken a beating and have handled it with grace - never denying or hiding."

Patrick Bridges, a UA graduate student, asked pointed questions about accountability.

"Why did my Social Security numbers get released without my knowing?" he asked. "Was this intentional? Was there a cover-up?"

Others asked for reassurance that the release of personal information will not occur in the future.

"As soon as pressure is released off the administration, reforms will stop," Tubbiolo said. "They will tell us that if we just go back to normal functioning on campus, they will make everything OK again - don't buy this for a minute."

Administrators responded to concerns for almost an hour after about 30 students and employees said their piece.

"It's a heck of a lot easier to fix it than to justify it," Proctor said. "We need to have an ethic on this campus."

Responding at the forum to concerns that UA officials were aware as early as July that releasing Social Security numbers was illegal, Chief Budget Officer Roberts said he was "quoted inaccurately" in Friday's Arizona Daily Wildcat.

The Wildcat reported that the information was released to MCI despite previous discussion about the illegality of releasing the numbers.

After the forum, however, Roberts said the Wildcat accurately reported what he said but did not emphasize what he felt was the "silver lining" - that the dialog about the release had occurred at all.

Taylor said she was still proud of the card, but apologized for what happened.

"This has been the worst month of my life, and if it makes anyone feel better, I'm personally suffering because of this," she said.

Likins ended the forum with one more plea to move past the CatCard problems.

"I hope we can just plain forgive and understand these people are trying to do the right thing," Likins said. "We can't do our job if you don't trust us."

( The Online Wildcat has audio files from the CatCard forum, if you are interested. )

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