Discovery of confidential documents prompts change in disposal procedures

The trucks will rumble across USF before the end of the week, and they will come for one purpose: to destroy. No trace of evidence should be left behind, because what they’re destroying is sensitive student information.

USF’s Enrollment Planning and Management recently adopted a new policy for handling records containing Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and any other confidential information. The change comes after an Oracle reporter located an eight-page list of names, Social Security numbers, grade point averages and SAT scores located behind the Student Services Building last month.

“We think what happened and what (the reporter) found was an honest mistake,” said director of admissions Dewey Holleman on Oct. 1. “This gave us an opportunity to say we had a tight system but ask, ‘How can we (improve)?'”

The previous procedure for destroying records in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions stated “all personally identifiable documents must be placed in the registrar’s special handling bin or shredded.”

The procedure adds that recycling is not acceptable and staff members should have a “shred box” at their workstations where the documents remain until the time of destruction or records are transferred to the special handling bins.

However, this was not the first time records have been found not shredded at USF. In October 2001, stacks of reports that were about two years old were found lying in a recycling bin in the Student Services Building. Most of the reports came from the Registrar’s Office and contained student immunization information.

Now a confidential-waste disposal company, Secure Onsite Shredding, based in Dunedin, will be responsible for shredding all sensitive documents at USF.

The company, which already disposes of financial aid documents, will supply each department in Enrollment Planning and Management with containers fitted with combination locks to hold all sensitive documents until they are to be shredded.

An employee from each department, including the Registrar’s Office, Admissions, Financial Aid, Academic Advising and Career Services, must witness the documents being shredded in the truck. The employee must then obtain a certificate of destruction from Secure Onsite Shredding that verifies all the records have been destroyed.

“It shreds down to the size of a thumbnail, so there is a guarantee that these papers cannot be reproduced,” said Doug Hartnagel, associate vice president for Enrollment Planning and Management.

Hartnagel said a contract between USF and Secure Onsite Shredding could cost about $6,000 to $7,000 a year.

“The contract is on a per-pound basis, so it depends on how much is done in every given period,” Hartnagel said Tuesday.

Shredding trucks are expected to come every other week to destroy records.

Hartnagel said officials met with Secure Onsite Shredding last week to sign the contract for a disposal of all sensitive records at USF. Previously, Physical Plant was responsible for picking up admissions records to have them shredded, Holleman said.

Discussions to change Admissions’ record destruction policy began at the end of September during a regular Enrollment Planning and Management meeting.

“We hadn’t had any problems with the (old) method,” said Holleman, who has worked in USF’s Office of Admissions since August 2001. “Whenever things like that happen, it’s my responsibility to help do the best thing possible.”

Holleman said they didn’t adopt Financial Aid’s procedure earlier because there were fewer documents and not as much handling.

“You have fewer people in the process and our office can assure it’s being shredded,” Holleman said. “(Admissions) gets 30,000 applications and supporting credentials in an academic year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the Registrar’s and Financial Aid.”

As for the records that were found outside the Student Services Building, Holleman said he could not determine if it was a mishandling on Admissions or Physical Plant’s part.

“I don’t want to point the finger,” Holleman said. “Either it should have been shredded or should have not left the special handling bin. But if we didn’t get feedback, we couldn’t improve things here.”

Hartnagel, too, said the former system was effective.

“I think the situation (the reporter) saw was by human error,” Hartnagel said. “Anytime we do something, it allows us to continue to reevaluate what we’re doing. But we took advantage of an error to make it into something positive.”