U.Va. moving students from Google workspace to Office 365, facing opposition from students – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

The University announced all students will transition from Google to Office 365 beginning in spring of 2022 in an email sent Wednesday by Dana German, associate vice president and deputy chief information officer. Students quickly expressed anger and frustration at the decision — a petition created Wednesday has amassed over 3,800 signatures. 

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, German said the decision was made for a few reasons, one of which is that Google is changing its pricing model and implementing “significant storage quotas and fees.” While the pricing change has made remaining with Google “cost-prohibitive,” German said that this is not the only reason the University has decided to make the switch. 

“The main factor is trying to — for the first time — get faculty and staff and students all on the same communication and collaboration platform,” German said. “ It’s challenging to get from here to there, but there are just a lot of benefits there — help[ing] community, greater adoption of collaboration tools, improved security.” 

For currently enrolled students, the switch from Google to Office 365 will begin in May or early June. Emails, contacts, calendars and documents will be migrated, but students will maintain their same email addresses and access to old emails and files. 

The new Office 365 package will include collaborative resources comparable to what Google currently offers — PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Teams and Outlook Email are all available online and students will have full access to the rest of the Office 365 apps. 

Alumni will have a grace period of nine months with full access to Office 365 and then 15 months with an alias-only email address — a total of two years before their access to their University email expires. German said that this decision was made based on data that shows over 90 percent of alumni stopped sending emails from their University accounts within two years of graduating. Previously, alumni had indefinite access to email accounts with Google. 

Students opposed this decision both on social media and with a petition. Many cited a level of comfort and simplicity with Google’s workspace and are frustrated with a lack of student input regarding the decision. 

“Google Suite is so easy to use, and I can access my account anytime, anywhere,” third-year College student Tylar Schmitt said. “I’m afraid I’ll lose that with Office 365. I feel that the University made this decision without any student input, because if they did, they would not have made that decision at all.”

Others argued that the University should be able to bear the increased cost of using Google. 

“If using Google is way more expensive for the school or something, let the signatures on this petition be evidence to U.Va. that the extra costs are worth it,” one commenter on the petition wrote

According to German, the University ran small student focus groups consisting of about 18 students spanning different years and schools in February and March. 

“We got their opinions about Google versus Office 365, talked to them about their perceptions about alumni email and … if they thought they would care about [having access to] U.Va. email when they graduated,” German said. 

Last summer a test migration was performed with about 20 students, and in October the University’s technology team met with leaders of Student Council. German said the University is aware of student frustrations and is working to mitigate them before the transition. 

“We are listening and paying attention and reading all these comments,” German said. “A number of the comments are about change and user interface … there are some comments that are substantive about some particular use cases, so our project team is really looking into those and seeing how we would accommodate these, and how they would result in changes to our plan.”

Over 900 students in the School of Law will make the transition to Office 365 early in December per their request, according to German. New students who matriculate in December will be set up on Office 365, as will any new academic faculty and staff.

Currently, all students have access to Office 365 apps except email and calendaring. German encouraged students to begin exploring and getting used to using these tools. Microsoft offers training videos for all of their apps, and the University’s Information Technology Services website includes instructions for installing and using Office 365. Students can sign in with their existing emails and get access to all of these resources. 

“The reality is that we’re forced to make some changes, there’s no question about that,” German said. 

Any questions about the transition can be directed to office365project@virginia.edu.

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