On 4 October this year, UCD alumni were greeted with an email from UCD IT Services.
This email served as a notice that the University Management Team has “made a decision that this service will no longer be offered after 10 January 2023”. Four reasons were given for this change: low usage, security concerns on unprotected accounts, GDPR requirements, and the ongoing costs that are “not financially viable for the university”.
For me and my peers, this news came as quite a surprise. While we had been perhaps naive to think that our UCD email addresses would last forever, we were shocked and disappointed with how suddenly a decision was made. There was no consultation, there was no “by the way, we might be thinking of this sometime soon”. There was just an email, with a 3 month fuse before one of our email addresses would blow up for good.
After the initial feeling of disappointment faded, we began to think a bit more about the change. Almost immediately, we realised that the excuses given by the University Management Team were vague at best, and contradictory at worst. For example, it struck us as odd that the service was both “financially unviable”, but also suffering from “low usage”. One would think this is a “one or the other” sort of situation.
Further, we were presented with concerns over “security issues” and “GDPR requirements”. Admittedly, I know nothing of data privacy law, nor am I privy to any of the online security systems employed by the university. However, it seems blindingly obvious that these issues could be sorted, and very easily, if the desire was there.
Having spent an entire 15 minutes working on the problem, I’d have proposed requiring alumni to enable 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) on their account, and maybe e-signing some sort of waiver, should they wish to maintain their account. This would solve most of the issues at once: security, check. GDPR concerns, check. Being able to save on the seemingly large number of dormant accounts, check. I’m going to go out on a bit of an assumption here and say that, if the platform is suffering from “low usage”, that at least 50% of the registered accounts aren’t being used. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater if you’re trying to save money?
With such clear and simple solutions readily available, it’s easy to ask the question “Well, why don’t the University just do that?”. The answer, unfortunately, is simple. The University Management Team is being short-sighted, and allowing a fundamental misunderstanding of their alumni relationship to sour their decision making.
Lets say, for the sake of argument, that you’re a company. It’s time to do the annual accounts, and you’re thinking “How do I account for my staff?”. The clear first step is to tot up all the costs relating to the staff, take the big red pen, and group them all under expenses. This is exactly what the UMT has done with regards to its alumni and, as a first step, it is accurate and valid. There are expenses relating to maintaining a “staff” of alumni, and that’s reasonable.
But then you wonder, “Well, why am I spending all of this money on ‘staff’”? And if you close the accounts before asking this question, you’ve no right to be running a business. Because the books have to balance. For every gain, an expense. For every expense, a gain.
The second step of the alumni “accounting” problem is to take the black pen, the good, positive, “This is making me money” pen, and head to the balance sheet. Now you get the benefit of paying for your staff, as you enter your Assets into the books. To forget this part, to skip out on the realisation that your staff (or in this case, your Alumni) have crucial value to your business, is insane.
In the context of a university, alumni are one of the greatest assets a business could have. They serve as living, breathing, often incoming-producing proof of the quality of the university, and carry the good name of the institution wherever they go.
The UMT have decided, unfortunately, that they are either unable or unwilling to pay the service costs on their assets. I don’t know how expensive storing emails is, it hasn’t really crossed my mind before. But clearly it’s more expensive than the goodwill of 300,000 graduates.
As a recent alum, I’ve already been approached for donations to the university. No sooner was I out the door then the college sought to reap the benefits of “their” investment. And that’s fine. I’m still using the university’s service every day, between email and Google Drive. There’s still a relationship.
But now I’m being left out on my own. Besides my history, there’s nothing to connect me to the University.
So the next time Mark Rodger’s tax collectors coming knocking, I’ll simply direct them to my preferred form of communication: