Minutes of the September 5, 2007 meeting of the
Committee on Information Technology
Present: Jonathan Christman, Jeff Muday, Luis González, Jolie Tingen, Susan Smith, Delphine Masse, Jay Dominick, Hugh Howards, Rick Matthews, Will Elliot, Paul Escott
The meeting started with an introduction of committee members. Luis announced that the tentative schedule for the committee meetings will be the first Wednesday of every month. Therefore, the CIT meetings for fall semester will be October 3, November 7, and December 5.
The second agenda item was the e-mail to the committee from Eric Carlson regarding his objection to the policy of forcing password changes every six months. Jay responded that there are two schools of thought regarding password changes; changing passwords every six months and one strong password that never changes. He said that most of the world uses the former. Delphine suggested enforcing password quality. Rick supports password changes every six months and not more often. He said that if passwords are too onerous then people can’t remember them and use post it notes for reminders which is not secure. He supports stronger passwords and fewer changes. Jay said that IS is working on security in general and that two committees have been formed to address the campus-wide security framework. The first committee is a working level group and the second is a cabinet level group. There are few existing policies regarding security and these committees will address those issues including passwords. Jays said that IS is looking at how we do authentication in general. We need an industry standard to replace our homegrown database that keeps up with our unified username and password. This would allow us to enforce stronger passwords. Jay also said that we need to have single credentials for authentication. Jeff said that he is opposed to single credentials and that we need a separate password for WIN. Jay said that Jeff was suggesting that some data is more sensitive than others. A policy framework is needed for each layer/type of information. The security committees will address this. Jeff suggested a scheme that can authenticate an e-mail sender. Jay said that we need to address digital signature as Jeff suggested. Rick said another challenge is to get people not to use their university password for outside systems/websites. Paul Escott said that people aren’t aware that this is a problem and that the campus community needs education in this area.
Luis suggested that the answer to Eric is to wait for the committee outcomes. Jay said that Eric Carlson’s concerns will be taken to the security committees. Jay added that the committees will start with the ISO standard 17799 for how an organization should handle security policies. The committees will also include the Acceptable Use policy set by the CIT. New policies will cover staff and an appeals process.
The second agenda item was the information technology security policy at WFU. Everyone agreed this was sufficiently covered in the previous discussion.
The third agenda item was a follow-up on the Google e-mail discussion started last year. Jeff has been working on exploring how other universities are using Google mail for students, faculty, and staff. Google is offering their services for e-mail and other collaboration tools for free with advertising and for $10,000 without advertising. In some instances, like Clemson, Google is offering services free without ads. A few other universities are using Google mail. Arizona State is using it for their 65,000 students, faculty and staff. Northwestern (14,000 students), Hofstra (12,000 students), and UNCG are also using Google for e-mail. Since e-mail is stored off-site using Google, universities don’t have control of the information. Therefore, some schools like Northwestern are only using Google mail for students and use Outlook/Exchange for the faculty and administration. Hofstra and Clemson are also using Google mail only for students. In the case of Hofstra, students access Google mail through their portal without ads. When the Hofstra students graduate, they then see ads with their Google mail. Paul Escott stated that he doubted Google would permanently offer the service without ads. Luis suggested the company might follow through as an initial offering. Jeff suggested they may permanently offer the service without ads for customer loyalty.
The service includes 2 GB of storage, multiple calendars that can be shared, chat, a start page, a page creator, and Google Apps. Google Apps is an in-browser document, spreadsheet, and presentation software suite that has interesting collaboration opportunities. Ad hoc groups can be formed to work on file revisions. New features such as Google Gears also allow for offline work. Jeff said that Google Apps is not likely to supplant Microsoft Office but many think that Google mail is robust enough to replace e-mail systems. Schools can still use their university e-mail addresses and remap to use the Google server. Migration to the Google server is relatively quick. For example, it took Arizona two months to migrate their users to Google mail. Jeff said that being able to check your e-mail from anywhere is a big benefit and that Google’s SPAM filter is excellent. However, Google doesn’t have an easy way to encrypt e-mail. Rick suggested that the pop server and Thunderbird could be used with Google mail to provide encryption. Jeff pointed out that some unique features of using Google mail online would be lost such as enhanced search features. Google anonymously scanning messages for keywords may also be a concern. Another concern expressed by Jay was how Google mail would handle bulk e-mail communications. Rick also expressed concern in light of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Whether or not Google mail is reliable in emergency situations is an important consideration.
The savings in using Google mail is hard to determine. Since a pop server is inexpensive to run, disk space would be the savings. Jay said that one could argue that the students have disk space on their laptops. He also suggested that Google mail may be best promoted as service enhancement rather than a cost savings initiative.
Jay asked if Yahoo is offering their services to universities and Jeff said they are not. Jeff thinks that Google mail is worth investigating and that the collaboration features support initiatives in the college strategic plan. Jeff said that we should talk to schools using the service. As a follow-up, Jeff and Jolie will write a report for the committee with further details. Rick said that as long as we have our wfu.edu name space, we have nothing to lose and could set up a pop server later if necessary. Rick mentioned the value of alumni continuing to use a wfu e-mail address. Jay suggested that Tim Snyder and Minta McNally should be contacted regarding that issue and using Google mail.
For the new business item, Delphine said that a faculty member complained to her that the help desk did not sufficiently support them with Blackboard. The Help Desk consultant told the faculty member to read the manual for assistance. Jay said that he will follow-up on this complaint. He also suggested that the university look at alternatives to Blackboard and that we should add this as an agenda item for the committee. Jeff mentioned that some alternatives don’t have advanced features like a grade book or Turn-it-in plug-ins. Susan said that transitioning faculty to another system may be painful. Jeff said that we may experience growing pains with Blackboard when faculty start using more Rich Media. Delphine said that Blackboard is not intuitive. Jeff mentioned that some Blackboard features don’t work in certain browsers. Jolie added that faculty can contact their ITG for Blackboard support.