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Disabling alumni emails cuts much more than costs

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OCTOBER 19, 2023

In early September, students were made aware of a new bConnected policy that would render their berkeley.edu accounts inactive nine months after graduation.

While alumni will maintain access to CalNet and create an alumni portal similar to that of CalCentral, the loss of access to berkeley.edu email accounts is a far greater inconvenience than finding a unique username.

Here’s the problem: 

Google announced in July 2022 that it was eliminating its unlimited storage policy, dealing a massive blow to universities that notoriously struggle with data storage. College campuses, including our own, have since been scrambling for solutions, burdened with a new limit of 100 terabytes. UC Berkeley launched its Google Cost Reduction Project earlier this year, with the goal of creating storage quotas for new and existing accounts.

But according to the timeline, eliminating alumni accounts was not initially an explicit option. Instead, the policy’s announcement came without warning, leaving the student body utterly unprepared.

We doubt campus has the capability to offer the necessary support to enact this change without risking loss of valuable data and intellectual property, but that only scratches the surface of our complaint with the new policy.

The main issue with alumni losing access to their UC Berkeley emails is the impact on postgraduate professional development. There is a caliber associated with being a campus graduate — one that is emphasized by the berkeley.edu email status. 

A UC Berkeley email is immediately recognizable. 

Setting aside the tangible boost it provides in postgraduate opportunities, it is a level of prestige that UC Berkeley alumni have earned and deserve to keep. 

In addition, many current UC Berkeley students have offered to pay to keep their emails. A petition on Change.org has garnered almost 7,900 signatures as of press time in favor of this proposal. We would hate to see campus do away with the alumni email system entirely, particularly when students and graduates alike have made it abundantly clear that they value their UC Berkeley email address. 

Google also merits a mention in our criticism. The search engine giant ranks among UC Berkeley’s top employers, creating a direct pipeline that both Google and campus alumni benefit from. Campuses across the country should question why Google would frustrate university storage and email logistics, ultimately impacting an alumni network from which it only stands to gain.

These aforementioned problems already have tangible solutions that campus has yet to take into consideration or publicly acknowledge.

Outside of the widely circulated petition, UC Berkeley has other pathways besides an optional student fee — although this is seemingly the quickest fix. 

However, we hold the belief that the responsibility of ensuring access to these email accounts post-graduation should not be placed on the students. It is the job of campus to continue to support the alumni that it claims “are the Cal legacy.”

Wielding the largest endowment among the UC campuses, the UC Berkeley administration should prioritize its alumni base, which provides a tremendous source of revenue in terms of direct contributions or professional acumen. Although separate from the school, the Cal Alumni Association boasts an impressive membership of almost 100,000 former UC Berkeley students. 

Their commitment to maintaining the UC Berkeley legacy continues to improve student experiences on campus, which should in turn be reciprocated by the administration.

In a previous article published in The Daily Californian, a campus spokesperson for University Development and Alumni Relations has stated that even if a fee were instituted, alumni would still be unable to maintain access to email accounts due to limits on cloud storage.

But UC Berkeley does not stand alone in this account conundrum, and other universities have already been proactive in addressing this storage setback. The University of Michigan has responded to Google’s price hike by lowering the user storage for each alum’s account to 15 gigabytes. Iowa State has enforced a three-gigabyte quota for individual storage accounts. We believe these are better alternatives than completely removing alumni access to UC Berkeley email addresses.  

UC San Diego and UCLA have already created workarounds to this problem. Both institutions currently operate with a forwarding service that allows students to maintain their email addresses indefinitely. This is yet another option being overlooked by UC Berkeley, a public university with comparable resources in the same school system. Other universities have recognized the importance of maintaining alumni email accounts. But, currently without any solution, campus has seemed to disregard the value berkeley.edu inboxes deliver and the opportunities to open doors for students long after they have graduated. 

We urge the UC Berkeley administration to listen to current students and recent graduates and consider alternative policies that other universities have adopted. If these policies are truly unachievable, the administration should explain why such alternatives are not viable.

It’s become abundantly clear that campus doesn’t have a budget problem, but a budgeting problem, leading to various institutional shortcomings over the years. Students continue to bear the brunt of this mismanagement time and again, and unfortunately they now are taking one more blow on their way out the door.

Editorials represent the majority opinion written by the editorial board. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

OCTOBER 19, 2023