Administrative Policies

AD56 Use of Group Communication Tools to Communicate University Business to Employees and Students

Policy Status: 

Active

Subject Matter Expert: 

Brian Bittner, 814-867-3430, bpb4@psu.edu

Policy Steward: 

Vice President for Administration

Contents:

PURPOSE:

To set forth the policy for using group communication tools as a means of communicating with all employees and/or students (or subsets of them) regarding University business, issues or emergencies. For purposes of this policy, group communication tools are defined as communications sent from University systems, cellular phones, smart phones, or any other devices or platforms to a portion of either the faculty, staff or students. This policy does not apply to communications within units, such as departments and colleges.

BACKGROUND:

Communication tools, such as email, text messaging systems, and other devices or platforms, have become the media of choice for communications involving a broad range of University activities, having replaced written communications in virtually all areas of the University. The University employs these communication tools to communicate to all students, faculty and staff (or large subsets of those groups) on a number of topics, including employment, scheduling and emergencies. Using such communication tools in this fashion at Penn State have improved the efficiency of University communications while reducing costs and dramatically reducing the need for the use of paper and the need for recycling.

While recognizing the importance of this type of communication, the University also recognizes that its misuse could be counterproductive, so this policy is set forth with the intention that the use of group communication tools to communicate with both employees and students be used only when the subject is of legitimate concern to the majority of those receiving it, and only if properly screened and authorized.

POLICY:

The University may, as needed, use group communication tools to communicate with all employees (or subsets of them) on matters of official University business that require immediate notification or that are of a sufficient level of importance to warrant special attention. The University may also use group communication tools to communicate with students in the event of emergencies or where other means are impractical. With the exception of the Emergency Notification System, any such group communications to employees or students must be approved by the Vice President for Strategic Communications, the Executive Vice President and Provost, or the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, and should be limited to those matters that affect the majority of the defined group.

GUIDELINES:

EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION SYSTEM ("PSU ALERT" & "Penn State Health Alerts")

PSU ALERT, overseen by the University Police and Public Safety Office, is Penn State's official emergency text messaging system. Penn State Health and the College of Medicine will utilize a separate emergency notification system, referred to as Penn State Health Alerts.  Both systems allow information to be sent via multiple platforms, including text messages, e-mail and social media.  PSU Alert and Penn State Health Alerts are the only emergency communication short message services (SMS) authorized to send emergency or crisis information to the University community.

PSU ALERT authorized senders are vetted and trained by University Police and Public Safety. Instructions for sending alerts is provided in the PSU ALERT Procedures.

Penn State Health Alerts authorized senders are vetted and trained by Information Technology and the Department of Safety/Emergency Preparedness Office at the Hershey Medical Center.  Instructions for sending alerts are provided in the Penn State Health Alert Procedures.

An "emergency" is defined as any unplanned event that can cause death or significant injuries to faculty, staff, students, or the public, OR that can shut down business, disrupt normal operations, cause physical or environmental damage, or can threaten the institution's financial standing or public image. These emergencies or crises may be man-made or natural.

All cellular phones which are issued for University use or are supported by a taxable allowance, must subscribe to the PSU ALERT emergency messaging system, if the phone provides for text messaging services.

OTHER TEXT MESSAGING SYSTEMS

When considering the use of texting for communicating with students, faculty or staff, it is important to ensure that its use is appropriate and cost effective. In this context, users are therefore advised to note the following:

  1. All texts sent on University systems should make it clear to the receivers which unit has sent the message or where it originated.
  2. Texts sent from University systems or smart phones must never contain any offensive, abusive or inappropriate language.
  3. Units using mobile phones as a way to communicate to employees should have a record of the mobile phone numbers which will be used to send the texts - ideally, this should be a single number, used consistently.
  4. All texting from University mobile phones should be for business-related purposes.
  5. University issued cell phones or smart phones should be password protected.
  6. Don't text and drive at the same time.
  7. It should be noted that there is no guarantee that text messages will be delivered promptly or at all by the mobile phone companies.
  8. Text messaging must not be used as the sole means of communicating an urgent or essential message to employees.

Text messaging should NOT be used for:

  1. Communicating personal or confidential information.
  2. Repeat reminders of messages already circulated.
  3. Personal matters (e.g., items for sale, farewell messages).
  4. Appeals on behalf of individual or groups of students (e.g. to attend academic related or social gatherings or events).
  5. Avoid sending private University data in text messages.
  6. Don't send social security numbers, passwords or credit card numbers in text messages.

For additional information and rules on texting with University-owned phones as well as those supported by taxable allowances, refer to Policy FN21.

GROUP EMAIL

Like text messaging systems, group emails are also an effective method of communicating important information to a portion of either the faculty, staff or students. They may be preferable over texting when the volume of information being passed is sizeable. As such, group emails sent on University systems:

  1. Must make it clear to the receivers which unit has sent the message or where it originated.
  2. Must be for business-related purposes.
  3. Must NOT contain any offensive, abusive or inappropriate language.
  4. Must NOT pass on personal information or appeals on behalf of individual or groups of students (e.g. to attend academic related or social gatherings or events).
  5. Must NOT pass social security numbers, passwords or credit card numbers.
  6. Must NOT be used for personal matters (e.g., items for sale, farewell messages).

FURTHER INFORMATION:

For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact Police and Public Safety.

Other Policies in this Manual should also be referenced, especially;

AD96 - Acceptable Use of University Information Resources

AD70 - Emergency Management

AD67 - Disclosure of Wrongful Conduct and Protection From Retaliation

AD74 - Compliance With the Clery Act

AD76 - Emergency Notifications on Digital Signage

AD78 - Threats to Campus Safety

Effective Date:
Date Approved: 
Date Published: 

Most recent changes:

  • August 15, 2017 - Edits to the GUIDELINES section reflecting an exception for the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the PSU College of Medicine utilizing Penn State Health Alerts.

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • June 9, 2014 - Edits to the PURPOSE, POLICY, GUIDELINES and CROSS REFERENCES sections to reflect changes to current operations. Addition of policy steward/ further information references, in the event that there are questions or requests for changes to the policy.

  • March 30, 2010 - Revisions to entire policy to reflect the utilization and establish the appropriate parameters for the use of group communication tools, such as email and text messaging systems, as a means of communicating with all employees and/or students (or subsets of them) regarding University business, issues or emergencies.
  • January 31, 2003 - Editorial change: "Vice President for Administration" changed to "Vice President for University Relations"
  • September 21, 2000 - New Policy