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Office 365: A victory and a warning

Submitted by Staff on Thu, 03/23/2017 - 17:23


On March 23, 2017, President David M. Hughes informed union members:

Dear Union Members,

The Administration has rescinded a policy change that undermined academic freedom, intellectual property protections, and faculty privacy.  The rest of this message explains that victory with respect to Microsoft Office 365, reiterates our warnings with respect to that product, and raises a red flag regarding Dropbox Education.

The Corporate University

First, let’s return to root causes.  President Barchi has sought to integrate, centralize, and control information and communication.  Old Queens would like to make Rutgers less like a university – diverse, sometimes disorderly, and inherently inefficient – and more like a streamlined corporation (an “enterprise” in the lingo).  Faculty, particularly unionized faculty, present an obstacle: we share in the governance of the University, we own our creative work, and we assert the right to speak our minds at every turn (especially when we have tenure).  Because we also control parts of the Rutgers bureaucracy – and because many administrators think like we do – Old Queens needs to reach entirely outside the University to find partners in its centralizing project.  Hence, the Administration has contracted with numerous corporations: Pearson for online managed degree programs, Boston Consulting Group for the strategic plan, Microsoft for email, and so on.  None of these firms comes from Academia or works primarily with academic clients.  Thus, they have imported, into Rutgers, corporate forms of management – with consequences the Administration may or may not have anticipated.

The Administration Walks it Back

Microsoft (now collaborating with Dell) designed this “365” product for workplaces where managers own the time and product of their employees.  Imagine a chemist at a pharmaceutical company.  To ensure that she does not “steal” her work from the firm, managers logically control and surveil the communications stream.  We academics, on the other hand, set our own research agendas and take them with us.  So Office 365 did not fit us well, and Old Queens knew it.  In August 2016, they tried to rectify the mismatch by summarily rewriting the “Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources” policy.  As I informed you in October and December, the new document insisted that we use our Rutgers email addresses for all “university business.”   The Union objected to that phrase and advised you to treat it as excluding research, scholarship, and pedagogy (given that such subjects are not considered public records under the NJ Public Records Act, or OPRA).  Old Queens now sees the matter our way. On 8 March, it rescinded the policy change (see page 2 of the administration's email to faculty), restoring the earlier Acceptable Use Policy of 2014.  As in the status quo ante, the Administration now only requires faculty to use Rutgers email addresses for “restricted items” (Clause B4 on p. 3 and the Appendix of another policy – limited, for most us, to correspondence with students about academic performance.  In short, we pushed the corporate university back over our barricade.

Next steps and Dropbox Education

Unfortunately, Office 365 still manages our communications, providing Old Queens with enhanced capacities to search, store, and monitor email traffic.  And the Administration still asserts – in all versions of the Acceptable Use policy – the privilege of reading our email when 1) suspecting a crime, 2) suspecting a violation of university policy or 3) when “required to carry out its necessary operations” (Clause C on p. 4 of the policy.  That third, wide-open condition permits any search of our email without notification, probably, or due process.  As a substitute, we have proposed a quasi-judicial process to permit such searches.  But Old Queens refuses to negotiate.  Old Queens also refuses to negotiate about the last priority for reforming Office 365: reinstating the automatic forwarding of email. Finally – as some late-breaking news – the Administration may soon offer us a discount on Dropbox . Beware of Trojan horses: this Dropbox Education package will give Old Queens “visibility and control” over data loaded onto it.

In sum, email and related digital services are contested territory in the expansion of the corporate university. I wish it were not so and that we did not have to grapple now with the dragnet of Office 365.  The Union advises faculty to use their Rutgers email addresses selectively and sparingly, that is, only for the “restricted items.”  Consider staying away from the Mobile Device Management app, whose capabilities remain mysterious.  Please respond to this message if you have any comment or information you would like to share.


In solidarity,

David M. Hughes
Professor of Anthropology (SAS-New Brunswick)
President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT faculty union

Rutgers AAUP-AFT
11 Stone Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08904
Office phone: (732) 964-1000
Fax: (732) 964-1032
Main union email:


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