Oregon student reporter who discovered university security breach punished but not expelled; adviser dismissed

When Western Oregon University student journalist Blair Loving opened upa mysteriously placed file on the university’s public server last June, hethought he would find information about the College of Education. Instead, heuncovered a file containing the names, Social Security numbers, grade pointaverages and other sensitive information of former students.

Loving’s decision to download the file so that the campus newspaper, theWestern Oregon Journal, could report on the security breach nearly ended histenure as a student and led to the dismissal of the paper’s adviser, SusanWickstrom, for allegedly mishandling a copy of the file and for failing toadvise the students about the university’s computer policies.

Loving learned at a disciplinary hearing Sept. 28 that he would not beexpelled, but the infraction will remain on his record. Wickstrom was informedin August that her contract would not be renewed.

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SPLC View: This is a classic case of shooting the messengers. Thestudent newspaper did exactly what newspapers are supposed to do: It reportedthe news. WOU left sensitive student data unprotected and available on itscomputer system. The student journalist did not “hack² the system and thenewspaper did not publish the names of the students or reveal any otherinformation about specific students in reporting the security breach.

However, instead of simply acknowledging and fixing their mistake, WOUofficials fired the newspaper’s adviser and threatened the student journalistwho discovered the university’s system error with expulsion. It’s hard to have afree and independent student press in such an environment, which is somethingthat WOU officials must know very well.