“We’re listening!” Yes, you’re no longer compelled to use your smu.ca / stmarys.ca e-mail address. You can use an e-mail account of your choice now. But the bad news is that they’re unilaterally taking away our Saint Mary’s e-mail addresses, even for those who wish to continue using them. There is no option of being grandfathered in for those who have been using the addresses for years. The change is a bit of a smack upside the head – especially since for at least the past year, we’ve had the option of specifying a forwarding address in SMUPort – you’ve effectively had the option of using an e-mail account of your choice on the “back end”. But due to FOIPOP legislation and technical limitations, you can no longer have your e-mail cake and eat it too.
The changes don’t just impact students: Staff and faculty can no longer forward their e-mail to an external address. This will reduce the accessibility of professors, and those who wish to remain connected may well be promulgating alternative e-mail addresses. No longer will you e-mail a professor at their Saint Mary’s account (the only socially acceptable way for a first contact) and get an instant reply from their Gmail and carry on the conversation from there.
In fact, it’s the forwarding that’s the real problem. As the decision FAQ states, “The confidentiality of internal communications can only be ensured by using the Saint Mary’s email system. Also, under FOIPOP legislation, email is an institution record which must be maintained. This can only be done using our own systems.” (It’s trivial to archive incoming mail that is forwarded, but they would not be able to intercept the replies to these messages.)
It was the availability of convenient forwarding that spurred me to start using my Saint Mary’s address in the first place. Taking away forwarding dramatically decreases the usefulness of the account. Having more than one e-mail account to check is burdensome at best – it’s the cyber equivalent of having to sleep in more than one bed each night. And, personally speaking, I am chagrined that this is being sold as a “we’re listening to you!” moment when the real impetus behind the change and decision is legal and technical.
At least we can make lemons out of lemonade. Since we will have to update the prospective employers to which we foolishly gave our 4-year-post-secondary-institutional e-mail addresses, we can use this “as an opportunity to remind the employer of [our] interest.” And that our university is a basket case, but why mention that? Somehow I get the feeling that Harvard isn’t forcing a similar policy on its students. Or Dalhousie, for that matter. At any rate, you can be sure that some students of Harvard paste their harvard.edu e-mail addresses all over their on-and-offline documents. We’re not Harvard, but why should we be any different?
Among the FAQ’s sundry attempts to assuage is the statement that “an email address is typically neutral and has no impact in hiring unless it is a particularly controversial or offensive address.”
I agree. But much like a school ring, a school e-mail address is a status symbol worth having. By reserving this symbol for faculty and staff, we are effectively degrading the egalitarian spirit we have within this institution. Yet this is really about forwarding, not status – the loss of a status symbol for the impoverished huddled masses is just an incidental side effect. But for this reason alone I think it’s worth fighting back.