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Regents look to modify anti-SSN bill

By Michael Lafleur
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 26, 1999
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Jeffrey Williams
Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA President Peter Likins responds to a questions during yesterdays Regents meeting at UMC Cancer Center. Among the topics discussed were the tuition increase at state universities and university-run research parks.

The Arizona Board of Regents yesterday proposed changes to a legislative bill prohibiting colleges from using student Social Security numbers for identification purposes.

While board members said they wanted to ensure students' privacy, they were reluctant to accept the bill's 2001 deadline for implementation.

University of Arizona President Peter Likins said the student-driven legislation would create a financial hardship for the three Arizona universities.

"My strongest concern about this legislation is the time table," Likins said.

However, student concerns about administrative stonewalling prompted the bill's 2001 deadline, said Sam Leyvas, executive director of the Arizona Students Association.

During the meeting, Leyvas took the floor to defend the bill, for which his organization has lobbied.

"The board shouldn't oppose students who are trying to protect their rights," Leyvas said after the meeting. "We thought the Regents should support the legislation"

But Leyvas added that Regents and university presidents had "legitimate" points that his organization can agree with - provided that something is done to address its concerns.

"If you need another year, take another year, but we feel very adamant that the legislation needs a deadline," he said. "It needs to be done."

Likins said the UA is already working on a process that would enable students to be identified by methods other than their Social Security numbers.

"It's important to realize that we already do what they're requiring we do," Likins said after the meeting, referring to UA software that generates a random student identification number that corresponds to a Social Security number.

Another concern aired at the meeting was that the bill's language only provides for student privacy - disregarding faculty and staff.

Jerrold Hogle, chair-elect of the Arizona faculties council, said he would like to see those same protections applied to faculty and staff.

"The very options that President Likins referred to ought to be available to all," said Hogle.

Likins added that the legislation may constitute a total ban on the use of Social Security numbers, making it incompatible with university needs. The university will require the number for certain transactions, such as when dealing with financial records, he said.

Leyvas said his organization has confronted Arizona's university administrators in the past about the abuse of student privacy rights and nothing tangible had been done before legislation was proposed.

"I think with the universities it's always wait and see," he said. "We brought this to the table nine months ago - the only thing that got their attention is there's legislation now."

The Regents asked their liaison, Tony Seese-Bieda, to air their concerns to the Legislature.

"Rather than just oppose the legislation, the board took into consideration the comments of the presidents and will propose changes," Jewett said.

In other business, the Regents also opposed an Arizona Senate bill that would modify the current whistle-blower statute and dictate certain university procedures.

The whistle-blower laws protect state and university employees from administrative retaliation if they disclose wrongdoing.

Last year, university presidents reached an agreement with state lawmakers in which they committed to making changes - mainly installing independent hearing officers - in lieu of legislation.

The university presidents said they would like more time to evaluate whether the changes are working.

"We did put in place policies that have fundamentally fulfilled the features they sought," Likins said. "I would like to understand what it is within the policies we've adopted that is unacceptable to the legislature."

Northern Arizona University President Clara Lovett said the new legislation was a breach of contract.

"If the intent was to violate the agreement that we had last year....then we wasted a lot of time," Lovett said.

Regents also disagreed with the stipulation that litigants would have to pay half the cost of the hearing officer.

"My overarching concern is that this board may need to be more involved with this issue," Jewett said.

At this point, whistle-blowers who feel wrongfully terminated or denied privileges, such as tenure, can take their case to the university president.

If the litigant does not like the president's decision, it can be appealed in a state appellate court.

The hearing officer, appointed by the universities this year, is an intermediate step between the presidents and the appellate court.

The Senate bill would allow an employee to appeal the officer's decision in a trial court - disregarding all previous findings.

"Basically what that does is provide a superior court with the power to make a determination on tenure and post-tenure review," Regent President Judy Gignac said after the meeting.