Many universities around the world are no longer offering e-mail services to students – at least not directly. Instead, some schools are now outsourcing student e-mail to Gmail and Windows Live in an attempt to keep up with the changing needs of students and evolving Internet technology.
The University of Michigan isn’t one of those schools.
While Northwestern University made the switch to Google Apps for Education – a collection of free Google applications for colleges – after its undergraduate student government requested a change, the University of Michigan’s Information Technology Central Services is sticking with its current web mail system.
Only 5 percent of University undergraduates forward their mail to other accounts, according to ITCS.
The University currently provides web mail through an open source program released by the Horde Project. Horde’s Internet Messaging Program is one of the most widely used web mail systems, especially on college campuses.
Amy Brooks, interim co-executive director of the University’s Computing Environment, said the University considered leaving the IMP platform and using the Google solution, but it decided against it.
“We’ve evaluated Gmail, but there is no compelling reason for us to switch,” Brooks said.
Schools like Northwestern chose to use Google Apps for Education in part because many students were already forwarding their e-mail to private Gmail accounts. According to Wendy Woodward, director of Northwestern’s Technology Support Services, nearly 50 percent of students favored Gmail instead of the university’s service.
Brooks said that from a technical standpoint, Gmail is a very good system. She said that ITCS was mainly concerned with how Google would handle privacy issues. For instance, it is unclear how Google would handle Freedom of Information Act requests for university correspondence.
Jeff Keltner, business development manager for Google Apps for Education, said Google works diligently to protect the privacy of students and faculty.
Keltner cited Google’s efforts to protect the online activity of its users when the U.S. Department of Justice attempted to subpoena two months worth of search queries and billions of URLs.
“We guard the privacy of our users very zealously,” Keltner said. “Unless we really have to, we don’t want to give this data over.”
Currently, ITCS has safeguards in place to guarantee that students receive important University communications, including financial aid documents and emergency notifications. If the University used a third-party client for e-mail, ITCS would not have that control, Brooks said.
“So much university business is being done electronically that being assured that e-mail that is sent is received is a big concern,” Brooks said.