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Resistance to Office 365

Submitted by Staff on Mon, 09/19/2016 - 02:30

On September 19, 2016, President David M. Hughes sent out the following message to members, letting them know how we are working to resist the imposition of Microsoft Office 365 and stop the administration's corporate-style overreach in terms of surveillance of email. 

Dear Member:

Let me give you the bottom line first: Regarding the Administration's new email policy, it is the opinion of the Union’s attorney, that the University cannot require you to use the Rutgers email system, Rutgers Connect, for correspondence related to scholarship, pedagogy, and academic research. Requiring faculty to use Rutgers Connect for such correspondence violates fundamental principles of Academic Freedom, enshrined in Rutgers Policy and in numerous decisions of the United States Supreme Court.  

Here is a quick summary:

1. On August 22nd, Old Queens revised the text of a significant policy to insist that emails related to “University business” be transmitted through Rutgers servers and Office 365.

2. It is the position of the AAUP-AFT, in consulting with our attorney, that neither this revision of language nor the adoption of Office 365 changed the long-standing practice that faculty can use private email accounts to communicate about their scholarship, research and pedagogy.  

3. Whereas other universities that have adopted Office 365 have allowed for a mail forwarding option, Rutgers chose specifically not to. You are being forced to use Office 365 when you communicate using Rutgers email.

4. Office 365 also offers the Administration some of the most advanced techniques for searching your emails, making it even more critical that faculty retain the right to use private email addresses when communicating about scholarship, research or pedagogy.

If all this troubles you, please read to the section where we lay out what you can do.


Last month, the Administration began migrating our email accounts to Office 365, a cloud-based program managed by Microsoft and/or Dell and known locally as Rutgers Connect. I wrote to you three weeks ago advising you that the Union was investigating the impact of Office 365 on faculty privacy, academic freedom, and intellectual property: Aug 17 message. These are not small matters. The use of corporate software – Office 365 – lays the groundwork for claiming that the University administration owns our intellectual work. If we are required to use the University’s email system for communications relating to scholarship, research and pedagogy, the University administration would have the ability to inspect faculty communications at any time and possibly prevent faculty from having access to their scholarly research and communications via email.   We do not teach or conduct research as a “business.” We do these things as part of an intellectual calling that began before we came to Rutgers, that will continue after we leave, and that, in the meantime, motivates inquiry and creativity of the most far-reaching sort. This is the wonderful, productive, socially beneficial life of an academic – a life that President Barchi's policies clearly fail to recognize.

Technical issues

Office 365 creates the technical capacity for unrestrained monitoring and control over our intellectual and creative communications with colleagues and students. Through this software, the Administration will centralize all communications, including calendaring. It will have access at any time to those records. Because it will be impossible to delete emails from the cloud – even after downloading them to a personal computer – the Administration will retain this intellectual work in perpetuity. Throughout, as I explain below, Old Queens insists that we conduct what it calls “University business” exclusively on its platforms, where it exercises control.   For this reason, it is the position of the AAUP-AFT that “University business” cannot encompass communications relating to scholarship, research and pedagogy. In addition, it is critically important that the University agree to and put in place stringent safeguards that prevent the unauthorized and intrusive monitoring of faculty electronic communications.

And the situation gets worse. Once your Rutgers email address is migrated, you will not be able to forward all incoming messages automatically to, say, a Gmail address. Through this technical measure, the Administration will retain control of digital communication. Oddly, a number of other universities which have adopted Office 365 have done so without prohibiting automatic forwarding. Old Queens appears to have chosen this “enhancement” to the software deliberately.  

Conditions around smart phones remain extremely murky. The Mobile Device Management app can wipe some data off your phone under some circumstances. Until we learn more about this capacity – and how it might evolve in the future – I caution you strongly against downloading this app. Without the app, you can still check any email address through the phone’s browser.

We need to learn more about all these technologies. Since August, the Union has filed two requests under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) for the contract involving Office 365. To date, we have not received the contract. (Quite an ironic situation, given that Old Queens has justified the software as a tool to help it comply with OPRA). Still, it is clear that the Administration will be able to practice sophisticated forms of surveillance and datamining, according to Microsoft.

Legal issues

Meanwhile, on August 22 – a week after we first requested a meeting with the Administration – Old Queens revised the Acceptable Use Policy for Information Technology Resources. The old policy permitted us to use non-Rutgers addresses for all matters other than “restricted items.” (See Section B-4, sixth bullet point on p. 3 of the old policy). The Information Classification Policy defined “restricted items” as student performance records, patient data, and a few other very specific items (Appendix, p .6). That policy made sense since legislation (the Family Education Rights Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects the privacy of students and patients.

On August 22, the Administration amended its Acceptable Use Policy to require faculty to use the Rutgers email address for all “University business”: [New Policy, see especially Section B-6 on p. 3]. However, the phrase, “University business” is not defined, and as previously noted, it is the position of the AAUP-AFT that that term cannot legally be applied to our communications that relate to scholarship, research or pedagogy.  

To make matters worse, the new Acceptable Use Policy reiterates the most intrusive aspect of the old policy: that the Administration may read our email “if required to carry on its necessary operations” (p. 4, line 5). Old Queens has long asserted the right to monitor email communications without review or oversight. Office 365 equips it with the most advanced snooping tools. An over broad definition of “University business” would submit all of our writing to the operation of those tools.

What the Union is doing

The Union has responded to these technical and legal issues by requesting collective bargaining with the Administration. I have attached that demand, written by our attorney, Steve Weissman, which lays out part of our case: Demand to Bargain.

We met with the Administration on September 13 to discuss this issue and expect to meet again shortly with the hope of achieving an expeditious resolution that safeguards academic freedom and preserves the University as a place that encourages, rather than chills, the robust exchange of diverse views about academic scholarship and teaching, as well as issues of political and social concern.  

What you can do as Union members

For the short term, we have adopted a position, in consultation with our attorney, that preserves academic freedom by narrowly construing the term - “University business” - in accordance with the following guidelines:

1.    Rutgers is not a business.

2.    The Open Public Records Act specifically excludes from discovery all communications regarding scholarship, pedagogy, and academic research.

3.    The Union interprets “University business” as exclusive of these topics and inclusive, primarily, of student grades and patient health (as well as the other subjects previously termed “restricted”).

4.    Communications between faculty and outside parties and organizations – including the Union (but, obviously, not including students and patients) – do not fall within “University business.”

5.  Participate in your Union. The first chapter meeting of the semester at New Brunswick is Tues, Sept 27th at 1 PM, 11 Stone Street. Camden's is Wed, Sept 28 at 12:10 PM, Newark's info coming soon. RSVP for these meetings to help us plan for lunch,

Regarding point #4, the Union may eventually need to communicate with you outside Rutgers servers. If you wish, you may send us your non-Rutgers email address by responding directly to this message. (A one-liner is fine.) Of course, I understand entirely if you wish to keep that address private. Bear in mind, though, that Long Island University – which locked out its faculty earlier this month – first cut them off from their school email addresses. Our AAUP-AFT Executive Council passed a resolution in solidarity with those faculty. The LIU rescinded its decision after protests and solidarity efforts forced back their administration.

Some members of the Union have gone a step further and advised their correspondents of their own form of digital secession. In the footnote below, I have included one of these trailers (which would follow the signature line of a Rutgers email address) as an example for any of you prepared to go this route. (1)

Needless to say, the Union will keep you posted as matters evolve, and I welcome more feedback and advice from you.

In solidarity,
David M. Hughes
Professor, SAS-Anthropology (New Brunswick)
President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT

1. "The administration of Rutgers University claims the right to read my email correspondence. Recently acquired software gives the administration the ability to search and sort the entire database of electronic correspondence. If you wish to correspond with me more confidentially, you may write to [alternate email address] from a non-Rutgers email address."


Rutgers AAUP-AFT
11 Stone Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Office phone: (732) 964-1000
Fax: (732) 964-1032
Main union email:

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