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Duke admissions to notify via web

Even as a scandal rages about Princeton University's unauthorized access to Yale University's online admissions information, Duke plans to post its acceptance decisions online for early admissions applicants this year.

The University, however, plans on using personalized passwords to secure the planned site.

"We're considering putting our information online--but not like Yale," said Christoph Guttentag, director of undergraduate admissions. "In terms of admissions, nothing we do has more impact than sending out decision letters. There is no place to be more careful."

Guttentag said the admissions office already has a working website for accepted applicants with security, so he is optimistic the site could be operational this fall. The University's site would only be accessible to applicants, who would have a personalized password, which they would possibly select themselves.

Early admissions, which comprises about a tenth of the total applicant pool, would serve as a trial period before the spring.

Information Technology Security Officer Chris Cramer said Yale's fundamental problem was that it relied on public information--like name, date of birth and Social Security number--to authenticate identity. Although he is not specifically working on the project, Cramer suggested using a website that was accessible only to applicants and sending them a pin number via mail with which they could enter the site.

"The security part is reasonably simple," Cramer said. "But it has to be built in from the beginning."

In July, Princeton's head of admissions was suspended after his office was accused of improperly entering Yale's website and checking the admissions status of 11 students who had applied to both schools.

Guttentag, who personally knows the admissions director at Princeton, said the actions were out of character for him.

"There were essentially two errors in judgment, I think," Guttentag said. "First is Princeton's error in not appreciating what they were doing. Second is Yale's in not having adequate security."

The School of Medicine, which already uses a website on which students can access their information, experienced problems with the system last spring. A computer glitch incorrectly notified eight students that they had been accepted, forcing the school to withdraw the "acceptances" and reiterate to students that although they could check their status online, it was not official until they received written notification in the mail.

Concerns over security and glitches have prompted other Duke schools to proceed with caution on the issue. The School of Law has no plans to post admissions decisions online.

"We would rather watch and see how it works with other places before we jump in with both feet," said Dennis Shields, associate dean of the School of Law. "I'm not convinced that instantaneous knowledge is always appropriate. Because of the seriousness of the endeavor, it deserves the message you get in the mail with a signature from the dean."

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