‘Watch list’ response subpar

NIU has once again damaged trust between administration and the student population by automatically adding certain groups to a “watch list” without notifying them. The Editorial Board recommends the administration address the issue more openly with students, as the first attempt to do so fell below expectations.

NIU has been using Maxient, a software designed to report and store records that concern student conduct and academic information, since 2010, according to a Jan. 26 statement by the Division of Student Affairs. The groups placed on the “watch lists” are primarily Greek organizations, athletic teams and the CHANCE program. However, Dean of Students Kelly Wesener-Michael said students not in these groups can also be placed on the “watch list.”

An emergency meeting was held Saturday in the Campus Life Building concerning the “watch list” after a rumor that the software tracked user’s social media accounts was spread through campus and on Twitter.

The only public announcement made about the meeting was put on Twitter, the day of, from the University’s account @NIUlive, inviting only fraternity and sorority life presidents to attend. Athletes and members of the CHANCE program were not mentioned. Attendance was relatively low in comparison to the amount of NIU students placed on the “watch list”, as no email notifications were issued informing students who aren’t involved with greek life this meeting was taking place.

NIU’s attempt to address the rumors and concerns surrounding the “watch list” are commendable, but poorly executed. The Board feels all students should have been notified of this meeting because the software and its tracking of student behavior is a matter that concerns all students.

What seemed to concern students most was the use of the word “watch list”, which implies all students put on these lists are dangerous or have done something wrong.

“The watch list is a terrible term, and you should all be upset by it,” Wesener-Michael said. “It’s proprietary language, that’s what Maxient calls this module. This is not an NIU term.” Wesener-Michael said the software was like an electronic file system, automating where each file goes, how it is processed and the notifications that result from those files.

This “filing system” was not well-explained at the impromptu meeting. Terms like “oversight administrator,” were used but not elaborated upon. The lack of transparency from administration is not new but still disappointing.

Wesener-Michael said by choosing to be a participant in a student group, that student is assuming the responsibility which comes with representing that group and the university.

While the Editorial Board agrees with this statement, we also assert when NIU keeps expectations and obligations a secret, such as being added to a “watch list”, students may not fully understand what they are agreeing to. The lack of understanding and open discussion is what causes students to feel the administration’s being deceptive.

Wesener-Michael said, “…we clearly have identified that we need to be more transparent about that.”

We, as a Board, hope Wesner-Michael’s statement is true and indicative of another more inclusive meeting where these “watch lists” will no longer be surrounded by rumors.