After balking, Yale switches to Gmail

Fifty-three percent of Yale students already forward their university messages to Gmail.

More than a year after Yale University technology officials delayed the school’s adoption of Google’s Apps for Education, citing privacy and security concerns, the campus has announced students and faculty will use Gmail and a host of other Google programs by 2012.

Yale was among several high-profile universities that hesitated to move students and faculty to the cloud-based eMail system, which would move data off the campus and onto Google servers.

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Some Yale faculty members expressed concern that Google’s data centers were environmentally unfriendly, leaving a large carbon footprint that some on campus opposed.

“This will be a huge improvement for students, who will benefit not only from a better web-based eMail client, but also from the entire suite of Google Apps for Education,” Chuck Powell, associate CIO for operations, said in an April 18 announcement.

Yale will join more than 200 colleges and universities that use the free Gmail as their official eMail service.

IT officials expect to make Google Apps available to students by the end of the 2012-13 school year, the university announced. Besides eMail, the Yale’s Google suite will include video chat, online calendars, and document storage.

Faculty and campus staff members who deal with particularly sensitive data, such as electronic health information, will remain on Yale’s current eMail system, according to the school.

Having Google host the school’s eMail service, Powell said, will give IT employees more time to tackle other technology-related issues around the 5,300-student campus.

Powell said Yale students “would benefit from the richer set of features Google offers. Moreover, the range of eMail and collaborative tools is powerful and rapidly expanding; outsourcing will make these tools available to the Yale community as they are developed, ensuring that our community is working with state-of-the-art tools.”

Yale’s embrace of Gmail won’t mark a drastic change for many students. More than half of Yale students already forward their eMails from the university account to their Google inbox, according to research from Yale’s Information Technology Services Advisory Committee.

Yale IT administrators’ decision to delay adoption of Google Apps for Education last spring was seen by many in higher education as signs of a backlash against the popular cloud-computing service.

Shortly after Yale balked on switching to Gmail, IT decision makers at the University of Massachusetts said they would completely phase out the Gmail, along with Google Apps such as Docs, Calendar, and Sites.

UMass officials cited low adoption rates among students since Google services were made available through the university at the start of the fall 2009 semester.

Only 7 percent of UMass’s 20,000 undergraduate students switched from the university’s eMail system to Gmail, according to published reports and a university spokesman who confirmed those numbers.

And University of California Davis technology officials, including CIO and Vice Provost Peter Siegel, said in a letter to faculty that “outsourcing eMail may not be in compliance with the University of California Electronic Communications Policy,” adding that faculty who participated in a Gmail pilot said the campus’s commitment to privacy was “not demonstrated by Google and that the appropriate safeguards are neither in place at this time nor planned for the near future.”

Siegel said widespread news stories and international reports played a factor in the school’s decision not to adopt Gmail.

Some faculty were concerned by “Google’s perceived inattention to protecting user privacy and called on the company to incorporate fundamental privacy and data protection principles directly into the design of new online services,” he said in the letter.

Despite skepticism from a few prestigious campuses, Brown University technologists expanded Gmail beyond its undergraduate population.

The Providence, R.I. campus made Gmail available to about 7,000 faculty, staff, medical, and graduate students last fall, and the university has deployed “Google guides”—school staff members and student volunteers—to help new users transition to Google Apps.

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