U’s transition to Google apps advances to second stage

Approximately 22,000 of 70,000 students and faculty have made the switch.


Almost a year after the University of Minnesota announced the transition from GopherMail to Google’s Gmail, the school is preparing for the final leg of the switch.
At the end of August, the Office of Information Technology staff completed the first phase of the transition to Google Apps, the umbrella program that includes Gmail, web design tools, a calendar and Google Talk. These applications, in the education version, Google Education Edition Suite, are now open to all students, faculty and staff — but not everyone is adopting them quickly.
Phase two of the transition will begin at the end of September with an ad blitz coordinated by the University and Google to inform students to move away from the soon-defunct GopherMail. Phase one, which involved making the transition technologically doable, was finished in late August.
Approximately 22,200 of the University’s 70,000 students, faculty and staff have made the transition to Google.
“We have heard nothing but positive responses from students, faculty and staff,” Bernard Gulachek, senior OIT director of strategy management, said.
However, some associated with the school worry about Google privacy issues.
“I’m bothered that the University is moving to Google,” media law professor Jane Kirtley said. “This is a provider that has a track record of changing the terms of service in an ongoing way when they think it benefits them.”
Under the company’s terms, any content a user sends through a Google service can be used and reproduced by Google.
“In other words, they can basically do whatever they want with it,” Kirtley said.
Gulachek said the University has reviewed the way Google manages its operations and was satisfied with its infrastructure.
“The University has a very solid contract with Google,” he said.
Invitations have been sent to all undergraduate students and staff except those within the Academic Health Center.
“We are working with AHC so that we understand how to use technology in the context of protected health information,”
Gulachek said.
Google is working closely with schools on privacy issues, Kat Eller, a Google spokeswoman, said. “We take security very,
very seriously.”
Sam Plys, a second-year College of Liberal Arts student, has not made the switch to Gmail and will likely hold out on the transition until the last minute.
“That doesn’t seem right at all,” Plys said, referring to Google’s terms of service with the University.
“Given the economic situation that’s occurring and the challenges that are facing the institution, we will likely begin to think about sun-setting GopherMail,” Gulachek said.
A significant reason for the transition, besides the tools available to students, is that using Google is free for the University,
Bernard said.
Using Gmail will save the college $2 million to $3 million a year, according to a University statement.
The University will continue to have the same control over student and faculty mail, but it will no longer be run on servers owned by the University. Google will manage all technological infrastructure, while the University will handle account administration.
Google Education Edition Suite, which launched four years ago, now has more than eight million users. Fifty-nine percent of four-year universities named Google as their e-mail provider in 2009, according to the National Survey of Computing and IT in Higher Education.
“I don’t think the U has fully grasped the breadth of Google,” Kirtley said.