WHEELING - Parents of West Virginia University students take note: information such as your home address, your child's cell phone number and their e-mail address are considered public information, and can easily be obtained online through the WVU website.
The fact that the information is considered "public" and is part of the university directory has led to personal information for the more than 28,000 WVU students being provided to business and political groups upon request, acknowledged WVU spokesman John Bolt.
He cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which actually allows the school to provide even more information - such as birthdates and parents' names - to any entity that asks the school's registrar's office for the data.
Bolt said students can opt out of the school's directory and keep their information private.
"Once we have set the parameters for what (public) information is, we have to consider that policy and be consistent," Bolt said. "We don't want to get into the situation where we give it to you, then not to you."
He noted the university used to keep a printed directory that included student phone numbers and other personal information. But as technology has evolved, students' personal e-mail addresses were added to a directory that is now available online.
Typing in a student's name in the online directory provides information stating their major, their e-mail address, official address (usually their parents' home address) and personal phone number.
The policy came into question this week after many WVU students received a bulk e-mail sent out by West Virginia 1st Congressional District candidate Mike Oliverio, a Democrat.
Oliverio, a former student body president at WVU, encouraged students to register to vote, and included a link to his website as a way to register. Some students expressed concern over receiving the unsolicited e-mail.
Oliverio's campaign said Friday that it had obtained the WVU student database from the West Virginia Democratic Party.
Derek Scarbro, executive director of the state Democratic group, said that the Democrats incur little resistance when asking for such data.
"A student volunteer for us went down to the registrar's office (at WVU), and asked if the e-mail information was for public use," he said. "They were told it was, and they gave it to us. Other colleges do it, too. It's common for us to ask, and for higher education to take that approach."
Bolt said if the state Republican Party or the campaign of Oliverio's Republican opponent, David B. McKinley, had asked for the same information, they also would have received it.
"Since the directory information is public and available, we provided it - just as we do for the Book Exchange (a campus bookstore) and other entities ... ," Bolt said. "If it is directory information, then it is public."