St. Thomas and its Information Resources and Technologies department are looking for student feedback to help them decide whether to outsource its e-mail to Google Mail.
Fifty student volunteers signed up to take part in the G-mail pilot program that started Monday, April 5, and will run through the rest of the semester.
Colleges and universities across the country have begun to outsource their email-services as a way to cut costs. A Nov. 12 TommieMedia article reported both the University of Minnesota and Macalester College have switched to G-mail, and St. Thomas could be the next.
In a Bulletin article March 15, IRT invited St. Thomas students to provide feedback on their experiences with G-mail and other Google applications.
IRT Vice President Sam Levy organized the pilot to get a better idea of how the St. Thomas student body feels about what Google has to offer.
Sophomore Annie Magdziarz is one of the students participating in the pilot. Her interest in joining comes from her continuous use of all that Google has to offer.
“I actually already use everything that Google has, like G-mail, Google calendar [and] I actually bought a Google phone the week that it came out,” Magdziarz said.
St. Thomas has used Microsoft Exchange e-mail since 1999. Levy said this e-mail server has been effective for many years and has been integrated well into Murphy Online, Blackboard and, most recently, Portal.
“When a permanent switch occurs, you want people to just walk right in to that and all of the stuff they currently have is available in that switch,” Levy said. “You don’t want to take something from someone unless you replace it with something that is of equal of value to them, not to you but to them.”
The effect on current students
If St. Thomas follows through with the transition to Gmail, Levy said it would be a slow process. IRT has been in continuous talks with Google and with other universities about how to go about the transition.
When the University of Minnesota made the transition, it made it voluntary: letting students decide between their G-mail accounts or the school’s e-mail address.
Levy said if a decision were made to make the switch, it would start as a voluntary transition, as a way of easing into it.
Levy has seen an increase in students who use multiple e-mail accounts over the last few years and believes that a transition would be fairly easy.
Mazdziarz uses both her St. Thomas account and a separate G-mail account so that she can balance her personal life and her school-related life.
If the change is made, students who already have an existing G-mail account will be able to easily make the transition by forwarding everything from their current account to the St. Thomas address or visa versa.
Transition for alumni
In the current Microsoft Exchange e-mail system, IRT keeps recent graduate’s e-mail addresses in the server for a period of 12 to 24 months after they graduate.
The Quad, run by St. Thomas’ alumni association, has an e-mail feature to it where alumni are advised to move to when their e-mail account expires.
Levy said the first thing that alumni are interested in is having the “stthomas.edu” email address when applying for jobs and IRT wants to be able to offer that.
“We don’t ever orphan anybody,” Levy said. “What we try to do is hand them off to alumni…. and migrate people slowly.”
IRT cleans out e-mail accounts when they can because from prospective students all the way to alumni there are tens of thousands of emails on the St. Thomas server.
Levy said if G-mail was adopted, e-mail addresses would not lose the “stthomas.edu” domain and the alumni would adapt a similar variation.
The question of privacy
One of the concerns that IRT has about outsourcing e-mail accounts to Google is that the work that faculty and staff do inside their e-mail is a record for the institution, and some of it is legal.
“We have to ask ourselves how close do we have to guard that,” Levy said. “If we are ever challenged in any process to produce that information we have to be able to.”
No decision has been made, but IRT has been in ongoing conversation regarding the accountability of their services that would guarantee information recovery for students, faculty and staff.
What is next in the process?
The pilot program finished up at the end of the semester and results will be posted in the Bulletin.
Levy said depending on the feedback, this summer IRT will work out a plan to decide what to do next.
“Like any pilot project you run into pilot projects so that you can develop answers,” Levy said. “You may think you know what is going to happen but there are always surprises and we want to be prepared for those. The most important thing for us is that our community have stability in their communications.”
Brian Matthews can be reached at email@example.com.