ASUC Senate Passes Bill Urging Switch From CalMail to Gmail

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A recently passed ASUC Senate bill urges UC Berkeley to adopt a new e-mail provider despite concerns from administrators regarding privacy and security for user data.

At a Feb. 2 senate meeting, the student government passed a bill that encouraged campus administration to adopt Google Apps - including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk and other services offered by the company - as a replacement for the campus's current institutional e-mail client, CalMail.

Authored by President Noah Stern, Student Action Senator Vishalli Loomba, Technological Development Director in the Office of the President Justin Sayarath and Chief of Staff for the Office in the President Kelly McDonnell, the bill seeks to enhance the "online experiences of students," claiming that a switch in technologies may save costs, improve communication and please students who are frustrated with CalMail.

"There have been consistent complaints from students that CalMail is not meeting their needs," Stern said in an e-mail. "Google has presented a very successful model on other campuses that many students are interested in."

Fourteen of the 23 California State University campuses have selected Google Apps as a platform for campuswide communication. In addition, UC Davis has employed the service for its students since 2008, though the service was not extended to faculty and staff after concerns were raised about data privacy.

"The main appeal for UC Davis in choosing Google Apps over a system like CalMail was that, number one, it provided a ton more e-mail space," said Gabe Youtsey, an information technology project manager in UC Davis' Informational and Educational Technology Department. "Secondly, it provides all of these additional apps. Many of our students already use Gmail and other cloud computing services like it."

Youtsey added that Google Apps' compatibility with the wide range of mobile electronic devices popular with college students could prove useful.

"I think more and more it's becoming increasingly used as people access their student e-mail accounts on their iPhones, their iPads and other mobile devices," he said.

At UC Berkeley, however, concerns about user data and general privacy similar to those expressed by UC Davis administrators are preventing Google Apps from being put into action.

Shelton Waggener, associate vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer for UC Berkeley, said in an e-mail that the administration's decision to retain CalMail stems in part from the fact that students and faculty can choose to forward e-mail to any alternate provider.

Waggener added that several problems have discouraged the campus from making the alteration, including vendors' unwillingness to keep user data stored within the country, which creates "serious legal, compliance and data security and accessibility issues."

"Vendors regularly harvest information from the e-mail stored on their servers for commercial purposes (advertising, among other things)," he said in the e-mail.

According to Waggener, the UC system is attempting to reach an agreement with Google and other unspecified service providers to resolve these issues. Until then, CalMail will continue to be used, though the administration supports "student use of other technology options that they find attractive."

Catie Cuan, a UC Berkeley junior and Google student ambassador present at the senate meeting, said she thought Google Apps should replace CalMail as the UC Berkeley standard because of its constant innovation.

"They have constant updates coming through the pipeline being created by the most brilliant engineers in the country," Cuan said. "(Using Google Apps) would support the claim that Berkeley is on the cutting edge of education."

The Haas School of Business is currently considering a Google Apps pilot program for its full-time and part-time MBA students, Cuan said.

Despite the enthusiasm of various parties, Stern acknowledged that further research is necessary to support the change, as well as the fact that obstacles may accompany its implementation.

"Future challenges are plenty," he said in the e-mail. "As with any major changes on our campus, it will take considerable work to align stakeholders ... we need to pinpoint security concerns and address them directly."


Contact Andrew David King at [email protected]

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