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Concerns about Microsoft Office 365

Submitted by Staff on Wed, 08/17/2016 - 13:42

President David M. Hughes wrote to union members on August 17, 2016:

Dear Colleagues:

Earlier this month, I wrote to faculty regarding Ethics Armor and its possible threat to the privacy of faculty and to freedom of association. On August 17, 2016, I have no update on Ethics Armor, as yet, but I wanted to provide information on a similar but independent concern: Email and Microsoft office 365.

The Administration is now beginning a long process of “migrating” our Rutgers email accounts onto the platform of Microsoft Office 365, also known as Rutgers Connect. The Administration never consulted with the Union, the Senate, or other shared governance bodies regarding this product. Staff of the Office of Information Technology have cited a variety of rationales for and consequences of the shift. Among them, the Administration will now be able to avail of Microsoft’s “eDiscovery” tool to search our email correspondence efficiently and thoroughly.

Old Queens has not told us how eDiscovery works.

Microsoft is more forthcoming, as you will appreciate here: The Administration may soon possess the ability – akin to that of the National Security Agency – to search the entire Rutgers email traffic for a word or a phrase.

Faculty will have difficulty avoiding eDiscovery. Memos describing the shift to Office 365 have stipulated that we must now conduct all "Rutgers business" on our university email addresses and through Office 365. None of the dispatches has defined "Rutgers business" (more on that below). Office 365 will not permit the automatic forwarding of messages from a Rutgers address to an independent one.  

Additionally, the fine print regarding smart phones reveals another disturbing possibility. The administration is activating what is known as Mobile Device Management. We may now register our smartphones, tablets, and so on with Office 365 and read our Rutgers email through the relevant app. So far so good. However, Mobile Device Management gives the managers the ability to conduct a "selective wipe" of those same devices. Check out the text under the heading "Selective wipe" here:

Why would the Administration want to delete one's email archive? The video at that link describes such a measure as "especially handy ... when an employee is leaving the company" (minute 1:22). We all will leave Rutgers one day, whether to retire or to take up another position (or through a less fortunate event). In the corporate sector - for which Microsoft designed Office 365 - firms lock departing workers irrevocably out of all electronic platforms. We would not want Rutgers to treat us in the same way. Indeed, if we consider our scholarship to be "Rutgers business," then Office 365 has the potential to cut us off, at a stroke, from a lifetime of communication and collaboration with colleagues near and far.

We don't know how probable such a scenario is or what protections we may avail ourselves of in relation to eDiscovery. As with Ethics Armor, the Union will seek further information from the Administration. In the meantime, I would advise caution. Certainly, you may wish to defer downloading the Office 365 app to any mobile device unless and until the Administration clarifies or modifies its intentions. And please do not hesitate to email the Union at this address:,  with your queries and suggestions regarding Office 365.

In solidarity,
David M Hughes
President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT


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