Nonetheless, officials on many campuses have set up committees to pool information about students with emotional or behavioral problems so patterns can be detected in what might otherwise be seen as isolated incidents. The trick, officials say, is to find the proper balance between respecting a student’s rights and protecting the university.

“That’s the tightrope administrators have to walk,” said Wright State’s Gerald Kay.

“The issue in most instances is how do you bring these people into some sort of treatment.”

Benton said any student who issues threats should be dealt with forcefully, regardless of privacy guidelines.

“Safety trumps confidentiality every time,” she said. “If someone is a danger to themselves or others, then confidentiality is out the window and you notify who you need to notify to ensure the safety of them and those around them.”

Peter Lake, a law professor at Stetson University, contends that officials on many campuses have been too deferential to privacy concerns, at the risk of safety at their schools.

“There’s a false consciousness of privacy in higher education – as an institution, we don’t like to share information,” he said.

“Now, you’re going to be seeing a greater emphasis on a management team or a safety czar – someone whose job it is to look at students’ overall profiles,” Lake said. “It’s not only a good idea – it’s an idea we can’t live without.”

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