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Student email set to switch to Gmail

By Hallie Jordan     2/14/12 6:00pm

More than a year after Rice and Google began conversations about a potential switch from Rice Webmail to Gmail, the university signed an official contract with Google on Feb. 1 allowing student email accounts hosted by Google. The switch was approved by the Student Association Monday and will be implemented over the summer.

Rice had been posed to sign a contract with the company last May, but the contract fell through, and Rice has since been working with Google to come up with an agreement crafted to fully protect students' rights.

Students will be the only ones to make the switch. Faculty and staff email accounts will continue to be hosted by Rice Webmail.

"All of the applications that come with Google, such as the documents, picture editor Picasa, contact list and calendar are a real benefit for students," Director of Systems, Infrastructure and Architecture Barry Ribbeck said. "We had to address each element in the contract separately. Rice needed the right verbage in the contract."

When a person makes a Gmail account, he or she must agree to terms and conditions that essentially say Google has the rights to the contents of all emails, Ribbeck said. As a university, Rice does not feel comfortable with that policy and has worked to make the deal with Google match that of Rice's own email policy, Senior Associate of General Counsel Joe Davidson said.

Though less than 15 percent of students currently forward their Rice Webmail to Gmail, Ribbeck and the SA felt that all students would be able to benefit from what Google has to offer.

A part of what took so long for the two institutions to work out a deal is that Google was simultaneously working with several other universities to make a contract that would please more than just one university at a time, Davidson said.

"It's important that students feel their communication is confidential," Davidson said.

That student email will not be directly under the control of Rice administrators was another concern about the switch, Ribbeck said. If Google servers are down, for instance, he said Rice will not have any control over the email.

However, Ribbeck said he felt the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Before officially deciding on the deal, Information Technology asked the SA to vote on whether or not students still wanted to make wanted the change. The SA unanimously passed a resolution supporting the switch at Monday's meeting.

"We were excited, and it was great because Ribbeck wanted students to have a voice in the transition and approve it or disapprove it while voicing concerns," SA President Georgia Lagoudas said.

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