President Tilghman issues message regarding unauthorized access to Yale admissions Web site

July 29, 2002 2 p.m.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman today issued an e-mail message to faculty, staff and students regarding unauthorized access from computers on the Princeton campus to a Yale University Web site.

Last week, Princeton officials were informed by Yale that it had identified 18 occasions in early April when one or more individuals using computers on the Princeton campus gained access to a Web site that Yale had established to inform its applicants of its admission decisions.

"Basic ethical principles of privacy and confidentiality are at stake here," Tilghman wrote to the University community. "We teach these principles and we hold our students, faculty and staff to them. Violations of these principles therefore must not, and will not, be tolerated.

"Students who apply to Princeton, or any other university, have every right to expect that information they provide in good faith will be used only for the purposes for which they provided it, and that their privacy and confidentiality will be respected," she continued. "They have the right, too, to expect that all of our actions, like those of any other university, will be in full compliance with the law and with University policy."

Tilghman said that the University launched an investigation as soon as it obtained the information. Princeton has engaged a former federal prosecutor with no previous ties to the University to help with the investigation. She said the University is "carefully and vigorously" pursuing the investigation, as well as cooperating fully with the U.S. attorney's office in Connecticut.

"We are contacting the students whose confidential information was used by members of our staff without authorization to apologize for this failure to properly respect their privacy," Tilghman wrote. "We also have apologized to officials at Yale for the unauthorized visits to their Web site by members of our staff."

Gaining access to the Yale site required the applicant's name, birth date and Social Security number. According to information provided by Yale, on 14 occasions involving eight applicants, the computers were located in the Princeton admission office.

Princeton officials already have learned that in one of the cases when computers located outside the admission office were used, a student who had applied to both schools was checking his status at Yale while visiting Princeton with his family. In the other three cases, a Princeton student was checking on the application of a sibling (one student checked twice).

"Unfortunately, it is also the case that a long-time and respected member of the admission office staff, Associate Dean and Director of Admission Stephen LeMenager, accessed Yale's Web site from an admission office computer," Tilghman wrote. "Dean LeMenager reported to the press that he did this to test the degree of security of Yale's new Web site."

LeMenager has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

"I deeply regret the enormous strain that these events have caused, first and foremost, to the students whose rights were violated," Tilghman wrote. "I also appreciate that this investigation places a large burden, unfortunately but necessarily, on members of the staff in offices that are directly affected and on the University as a whole.

"We will move quickly to bring the investigation to a just conclusion, and we will then take appropriate actions to deal with infractions that have occurred and to try to prevent any recurrence of similar actions in the future."

For the full text of the message, click here.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601