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E-mail slip divulges financial aid roster

The Office of Financial Aid sent out four e-mails Monday that inadvertently released the names and e-mail addresses of nearly 1,800 students who had initiated an application for financial assistance from the University.

Three of the messages showed the Brown e-mail addresses - including first and last names - of approximately 500 first-years, sophomores and juniors who have submitted financial aid documentation, and the fourth contained nearly 300. In all, The Herald counted 1,773 names mistakenly divulged Monday.

The messages, which were sent around 2:40 p.m. Monday from, reminded students which documents they need to submit and of the application's deadline. They did not state that the messages' recipients were students who had begun the process of applying for financial aid, but Director of Financial Aid James Tilton confirmed that fact Monday night.

Normally, students are sent information by blind carbon copy, or "BCC," which does not reveal an e-mail's other recipients, Tilton said.

"We made a mistake, and we clearly need to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

The Office of Financial Aid tracks the names of students who send in any documentation through Banner, according to Tilton. The office then sends those students reminders about the process of applying for financial aid.

While the e-mail includes a disclaimer that the information it contains "is confidential and/or legally privileged," Tilton said he does not consider Monday's mistake a violation of the confidentiality agreement.

"We didn't include any personal information" about individual students, Tilton said. Because the e-mail does not contain any other identifying information, Tilton said he did not consider the messages to be in violation of any state laws or the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits educational institutions from releasing confidential information without student or parental consent.

Tilton, who was hired to head the financial aid office in 2006, said no similar mistakes have been made during his tenure. He does not know of any such mistakes prior to his hiring, he said.

"In the future ... before mass e-mails like this go out," Tilton said, "we'll certainly make sure that they're created appropriately and mailed appropriately."

Some student said they were upset by the inadvertent release of the names.

"I think it's a really big mistake," said Molly Jacobson '10, who said she noticed the error as soon as she received the e-mail. "For a lot of students, (financial aid) is a private thing."

Vivienne Vicera '11, who also received one of the e-mails, said she too was bothered by the mistake.

But other students whose names were divulged considered the error minor.

"I'm not angry," said Corlis Gross '10. "It's not something that I'm ashamed of."

"I don't care, really," said Gabe Heymann '10.5. "I feel like being on financial aid is not really something that is looked down upon or should be looked down upon at all."

-With additional reporting by Brigitta Greene


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