University demands student org passwords, then backtracks
A new policy at Southern New Hampshire University asks student organizations to share login information, including passwords, to social media accounts. But university officials have made conflicting statements regarding whether or not the new procedure is mandatory.
SNHU decided to implement this policy in an attempt to help keep student organizations better organized and to ensure smooth transitions between leadership after students graduate, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
"This will not be used to monitor content or remove posts (unless it is a dire circumstance), but the main purpose it [sic] to enable smooth transitions."
However, one student organization is skeptical that SNHU will keep the passwords for the sole purpose of assisting with the transition of organizations. Dan Passen, state chairman of the New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans and a senior at SNHU, said that this policy raises concerns regarding whether or not the university will monitor what goes on in private conversations, or if they will try to change posts.
“I believe that it’s an infringement on free speech for campus, especially for a political organization like ours,” Passen told the Union Leader.
Campus Reform obtained an email to a student from Michelle Scali, assistant director of student involvement at SNHU, where she states that the password-sharing policy is “mandatory.”
“This will not be used to monitor content or remove posts (unless it is a dire circumstance), but the main purpose it [sic] to enable smooth transitions between Executive Boards and to prevent “dead pages” or accounts that are not in use,” Scali said in the email.
An SNHU spokesperson refuted the claim that student organizations are being forced to hand over their social media passwords.
“This was not a formal policy, rather a request to help ensure that pages were passed along to new leadership as students graduate and move on from the University,” SNHU Assistant Vice President for Communications Lauren Keane told Campus Reform. “SNHU will not regulate what student clubs/organizations say on social media, and there are no consequences if student groups do not comply. This request was made for the sole purpose of ensuring a smooth transition each year.”
Libby May, senior vice president of external relations and communications at the school, corroborated Keane’s characterization of the policy to Campus Reform.
Tyler Coward, legislative counsel at the free speech nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told Campus Reform that SNHU is a private institution and is not restrained by the First Amendment, but stated that the university does “promise” free speech rights for its students, and should follow through on that.
Additionally, Coward notes that even with justification, there are better ways to accomplish what SNHU is trying to do with this policy.
“One justification given by the institution is to help ensure that it can keep track of dormant accounts or when passwords are lost in transition periods of student organizations,” Coward said. “There are less intrusive ways for the university to accomplish this goal other than creating a backdoor for the university to eavesdrop on private communications.”
Coward is certain, however, that the policy does threaten the rights of free speech at the university.
“Whether or not this amounts to administrative overreach by administrators at the university, the policy very clearly threatens student privacy and free speech rights,” he told Campus Reform.
Scali did not respond to a request for comment.