OKLAHOMA — Students and faculty involved with Oklahoma State University student publications were let off the hook in August after the university attempted to implement a confidentiality agreement that they claimed would have violated their First Amendment rights.
Under the original agreement, student and faculty employees of The Daily O’Collegian, the student newspaper, would have been prohibited from disclosing unspecified confidential information, determined by the university, possibly about the stories they were covering. Employees were skeptical of the broad and unspecified measures of confidentiality and refused to sign the documents.
According to university officials, the agreement was intended to protect sensitive student information, including grades and social security numbers. The university distributed the agreement in July, along with a list of students who needed to sign it before they could be paid. Students objected, finding the language “vague” and questioning its constitutionality.
Instead, university Director of Communications Gary Shutt said that now only university employees who are not students must complete a 15-20 minute online confidentiality training session.
After the original proposal, the confidentiality agreement was publicized by student journalists at The Daily O’Collegian as a breach of their First Amendment rights.
“Nobody wanted to sign it,” said Jaclyn Cosgrove, the O’Collegian‘s former managing editor. “It’s just good that we didn’t have to sign anything.”
Shutt said he believes the confidentiality agreements were blown out of proportion because they were never meant to keep reporters from their stories, but were “intended to keep proprietary things in secret.”
The online training sessions are expected to begin “soon” and are designed so employees will understand certain information is confidential, Shutt said.
“Mainly, we are trying to make our employees aware that there is information that has to be kept confidential,” he said. “I think we’ve hit a good compromise and a good solution with online training to handle confidentiality.”