Letting mom and dad tap in, with limits

If knowledge is power, then parents of Gettysburg (Pa.) College students are some of the most powerful parents in America when it comes to knowing what's up on campus - and what their kids are doing.

Today, about 350 parents, with their children's permission, can access almost everything students can. They peek at online student itineraries, phone bills, college-store charges, unofficial transcripts, descriptions of events, student traffic records, and course profiles.

"The parents really like this," says Michael Martys, vice provost for information resources. "We didn't realize how much until we built it."

One of those happy parents is Gary McManimen, whose son Corey is a freshman at Gettysburg, which sits two hours west of their Philadelphia home. He and his son share a close relationship, so there isn't a feeling of "big brother watching," he says.

Gary says it has really helped him support Corey during his first year. And he credits his intimate knowledge of what's happening on campus to his access to the campus events calendar. "I've used my inside knowledge to undermine the 'I'm bored, there's nothing to do' stuff that kids will tell you," he says.

"When my son tells me, 'this place is really boring,' I check the Web site and find there's a Battle of the Bands. I e-mail him and say, 'Hold it, are we looking at the same place? I can e-mail you a copy of ... all these different activities.' "

Even so, Gettysburg College has taken a long, philosophical look at parent involvement in its cybercommunity.

It has refrained from granting unfettered parental access to student organizations, for instance. And it has not taken steps to help parents talk with each other via "listservs" (a way of distributing e-mail to all members of a group).

"Many of our parents are pretty Internet savvy," Mr. Martys says. "It can get kind of sticky, though. You don't want parents too involved."

For instance, it would be easy, he says, to add a Web-page button to allow parents to easily send e-mail to student advisers and professors. But the school has no intention of doing that.

"The students need to become adults and make their own decisions," he says. "We have the technology to bring parents fully into the community. But we think that would be detrimental, so we still keep them at a little bit of a distance."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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