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EDITORIAL: U. cloud system hangs over faculty

Rutgers Connect raises concerns from staff about privacy

Rutgers students are not the only members of the community affected by the University’s changes in technology. After the University began using Rutgers Connect, faculty members were concerned about the state of their privacy with the administration.

Rutgers Connect is the University’s version of the Microsoft 365 system. This includes video-conferencing, email, calendars, word processing, PowerPoint and other services. All of these services are linked together through a cloud service. This very cloud service is the one that Rutgers is using to merge its departmental email systems into, in hopes of being able to facilitate communication. But what the administration is calling “facilitation,” the staff is calling a risk to their privacy.

This system is also used by universities like Duke, Harvard and Ohio State. Except with Rutgers, there are 45,000 accounts in the system, 23,000 active users and 6 million files saved. But as big as this system is, one of the concerns of the faculty is that this system does not allow Rutgers to link with outside accounts. The inability to do this has made the system confusing and inefficient, at least according to the faculty that have used this system. But even with the plethora of complaints around the confusion of the processes of the systems, they do not trump the faculty’s worries about what University administrators are doing with their emails.

Faculty members are especially worried about the easy way in which the system captures and records their emails as it is a critical component of moving the system onto the cloud. The Office of Information Technology (OIT), which has conducted these changes and research as well, countered that the point of the system is not to invade privacy. Instead, when the administration has access to employee emails, it is to comply with legal or investigatory requirements.

It is understandable that the University feels as though this system is best for Rutgers. Administration probably feels as though this system is more efficient, and that the concerns about privacy are unwarranted because faculty should not be using work emails to do anything else besides work. But this thinking is missing the point.

Rutgers faculty are using their emails for only work. But that does not mean that the idea of the administration having access to their emails is not disconcerting. The faculty is compromised of educated adults who are responsible for teaching other adults. Being told that their work emails are could be under monitor may seem equivalent to being told that they are being babysat. The sense of privacy that faculty may have would be erased, and it could possibly create the feeling of a hostile environment.

The faculty is most likely aware that the University is doing what it feels is best. In fact, the OIT has reported that it has been able to stop 960,000 spam emails and 9,000 emails containing malicious software. Representatives from the University have also said that they do not access emails at their own discretion.

But despite the help that this may bring to the University, the biggest problem remains that this was a decision made without the consultation of the faculty. The faculty is a large part of what makes Rutgers the exceptional University that it is, and any protocol put into place that may make them feel uncomfortable will directly affect the atmosphere of the Rutgers community as a whole. The University must work with its faculty in order to come to a consensus that will make everyone feel comfortable and accounted for.

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