Tuesday, February 5, 2008

right to privacy: a postscript

I fleetingly thought that doing things like announcing grades in public is just the Dutch way, just how they do things here. There are plenty of customs that differ widely between American and Dutch schools, so maybe this is just one of them. So I asked some Dutch students whether it was normal for professors to announce everyone's grades.

"Oh, sure," they said.

"Really!?" Cultural differences or not, I was pretty surprised.

"Oh yeah," they continued. "They don't usually say them out loud in class, but professors always post lists of student numbers and grades on their office doors for people to check."

"Student numbers... and names?"

"No, just the numbers. Otherwise everybody would know what grade you got!"

So, according to my sources, it's not just a cultural thing.

And then a recent experience at the student office further emphasized how Henk Kars's behavior was not the norm, even among the blunt Dutch. I needed transcripts for various applications, which the woman at the student desk was happy to print out for me. It was when I asked for them to be stamped, sealed, and signed that she began to frown.

"I cannot do that," she said.

"You can't stamp the transcript as official?" I was confused; this was the official transcript office, after all.

"No, I cannot seal it in an envelope," she explained.

I stared at her, confusedly.

"We are not allowed to send out a student's private information on the student's behalf," she told me.

"But I'm giving you permission to send the information. And anyway, I don't want you to send it out. I'm going to send it, in a package along with the rest of my application."

"But if I give you it in an envelope, you could put it in the mail and send it on its own."

"But... then it would still be me sending it on my own behalf, not you."

"If our signature is on it, it would seem like it was coming from us," she insisted.

This back-and-forth continued for a while, with me trying to explain that no American institution would accept a transcript that isn't in an envelope sealed by the school, that the application details specify that only official, signed and sealed transcripts will be sufficient. She claimed never to have heard of this requirement before, and stuck with her position of not being able to allow me to potentially send out my own information on the University's letterhead.

Finally, we struck a deal. She would put my transcript in envelopes, but write "NOT FOR POST" accross the front. My grades are now on their way to various institutions, but with this disclaimer, because God forbid anyone think that the stamped, official printout of my transcript actually came directly from my school.

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