COUNCIL Committee 2001-2002 Year-end Reports
Report of the Committee on Communications
at Council April 24, 2002
Committee met four times during the academic
Remote Access, Express Modem Pool, "On-Line"
1, 2000 changes in Remote Access were instituted after an extended,
multi year, deliberative process that produced the decision to phase
out the "no charge" University Modem Pool, a service that
had provided Remote Access to PennNet at no direct charge to the
end user. The reasons for the decision to terminate "no charge"
Remote Access involved the increasing cost of maintaining the system,
the lack of capital for needed upgrades despite increasing demand
and the fact that this modem pool was lagging technologically with
respect to speed and bandwidth. Arrangements were made with several
local Internet service providers (ISPs) for Internet and PennNet
access at preferred rates. The University planned to maintain, for
a limited time, the existing 33.6 kbps modem pool for those willing
to pay a $13 per month fee but this service was rapidly phased out
because the user base was much smaller than expected. An Express
Modem Pool, a limited service option (15 minute session limit),
was maintained and continues to be available at no direct charge.
Committee Chairs membership on the Network Planning Taskforce
allowed ongoing Communications Committee awareness of the decisions
related to developing Net services and costs for the coming academic
year. The Communications Committee devoted one meeting to the issue
of remote access. There was also ongoing communication with Mr.
Mike Palladino (Associate Vice President of Information Systems
and Computing (ISC) and Chair of the Network Planning Task Force)
as well as with Ms. Robin Beck (Vice President of ISC and an ex
officio member of the Communications Committee). The committee
also met with Mr. Roy Heinz (Director, Library Information Services)
for a discussion of library user authentication issues.
The University has changed its model of Remote Access from a
University provided modem pool without direct end-user charges to
one in which the use of commercial ISPs is encouraged. There is
now about 1.5 years experience with the new model. This approach
to remote access appears to be working. The Communications Committee
was unable to identify a large group of individuals who had failed
to make the transition to a commercial ISP.
ISC is very interested in phasing out the Express Modem Pool
(the only remaining University provided remote access). ISC gives
the following reasons: 1) this modem pool has only about 1300 users
and the usage rate is very low 2) the high cost of maintaining the
Express Modem Pool is unjustified and ISC strongly feels that these
monies could be better utilized elsewhere; and 3) the personnel
time required to maintain this pool is excessive and could be better
used on other projects. ISC noted that the users of the Express
Modem Pool were equally divided between faculty and students. In
response, in part, to the Communications Committees concerns
about "stranding" users who might have no other method
of remote access, ISC, together with the various schools, was initiating
a concerted effort to identify the remaining Express Modem Pool
users with the goal of transitioning them to other forms of remote
access. ISC planned to recommend decommissioning the Express Modem
Pool by June 30, 2002.
The adequacy of materials provided to students and other University
Personnel concerning Remote Access options has not been determined
by this Committee.
The library has changed its online user authentication procedures
and the current approach (EZ-access) does not require workstation
configuration, everything takes place at the level of the server.
Apparently this newer approach to user authentication is compatible
with AOL whereas the old one was not.
The use of commercial ISPs for remote access appears to be accepted
by most of the University Community.
Concern was raised about Teaching Assistants having to pay "out
of pocket" for ISP connections to fulfill their teaching responsibilities.
There appears to have been no University wide attempt to address
this issue. Some Schools are reimbursing these costs in various
ways, but there is no centralized data on the numbers of individuals
Outsourced remote access is still evolving and thus should continue
to be monitored by the communications committee. Of particular interest
would be the financial choice of service levels and how they might
impact on planned University and School use of the Web as an educational
tool. Better data on the cost impact of the financially disadvantaged
members of the University Community such as teaching assistants
would also be helpful.
ISC should institute an ongoing educational effort so that each
new cohort of students moving off campus receives appropriate information
and guidance concerning available Remote Access choices.
There is no good information on student or faculty selection of
various off campus Internet service providers. Development of such
information would make the evaluation of remote access considerably
Continuing Evolution of Penn Web Including the Undergraduate
Admissions Web Site
During the prior academic
year the Communications Committee was charged with reviewing the
newly revised Undergraduate Admissions Web Site (Almanac
Vol. 47, No. 30, April 17, 2001). The quality of this
site compared to the much older Penn Web Home page led to the Communications
Committee expressing concern related to the state of PENN Web governance
and the need to consider a more stable model for periodic revision
and enhancement of this increasingly important portal to the University.
The appointment of a new Director of University Communication, Ms.
Lori Doyle, led to the PENN Webs placement under her direction
and the formation of a PENN Web advisory committee to review all
aspects of the PENN Web site. Ms. Doyle, who is also a member of
the Communications Committee, is chair of the Advisory committee
and the Chair of the Communications Committee is a member of the
group. Thus there have been ongoing contacts between the Communications
Committee and the PENN Web advisory committee.
periodic informal updates given at the Communications Committee
meetings as well as one or two meetings in which the PENN Web was
a specific agenda item. With respect to the Undergraduate Admissions
Web Site, the chair of the Communications Committee spent some time
reviewing the Web site and had one telephone conversation with Ms.
Margaret Porigow (Director of Admissions Operations).
The PENN Web advisory committee has made steady progress during
the academic year. Much of that progress is related to a definition
of what the University "stands" for, defining the user
population for the Web site, and the division between that portion
of the PENN Web that should be under "central" control
vs. the part that is the responsibility of individual schools or
centers. There was a consensus that the current "home"
page did not convey the "essence" of the University and
should be revised. There was a consensus that the several layers
following the home page were difficult to use. As yet there are
no specific designs or other visual conceptualization of what the
home page and the next several pages should look like. A definite
timetable for completion and implementation has been established.
The specific question of a "text only" Web site was raised.
The technical members of the Penn Web Advisory Committee did not
feel that this would be an advantage over the standard approach
of text and graphics and might even be harder to implement.
There has been little change in the Undergraduate Admissions Web
site since its revision last year.
There is as yet no data on user response to the revised Undergraduate
Admissions Web site.
Progress is being made toward designing a new PENN Web site.
The Undergraduate Admissions Web site appears essentially unchanged
from last year.
The two admissions Web sites entered from the same page as the Undergraduate
Admissions Web Site (Graduate and Lifelong Learning) are still stark
and barely functional.
The ongoing relationship between the Communications Committee and
the Penn Web advisory committee should be continued.
The relationship between the Communications Committee and the Office
of University Communications should be continued.
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions should develop a review process
for its Web site to determine its utility and acceptability to applicants.
Both the Web sites for Graduate Admissions and Lifelong Learning
need immediate revision if they are to approach the Undergraduate
Admissions Web site in appearance and functionality. These remarks
do not apply to the Admissions Web sites of the School of Medicine,
School of Law, Wharton School, and etc. but rather to the single
page that links the first Admissions Web Page to the initial page
of each Schools admissions sites.
Implementation of Task Force on Privacy Recommendations
In the Fall of 2000 a
task force on the Privacy of Personal Information was formed with
representatives from the University Council Committee on Communications
and the Committee on Personnel Benefits. It was chaired by Professor
Gerald Porter. After an extensive series of meetings, its report
was presented to University Council and published in Almanac
(Vol 47, No. 30, April 17, 2001). Members of the Task Force then
met with Provost Dr. Robert Barchi to review a 17-point set of recommendations
that the Task Force developed from the contents of its report. This
meeting with Dr. Barchi led to the formation of an ad hoc working
group under the direction of Deputy Provost, Professor Peter Conn.
Professor Gerald Porter was a member of this group, thus acting
as a liaison between University Council, the task force and this
newly constituted administrative group. Members of this working
group gave a full report to Council on January 29, 2002.
periodic e-mail contact between Professor Gerald Porter and the
Chair of the Communications Committee. There were also several e-mails
from the Provosts office. The Communications Committee devoted
most of one meeting to this issue. This meeting was attended by
Professor Gerald Porter and Ms. Lauren Steinfeld (Office of Audit
and Compliance). Ms. Steinfeld was subsequently appointed to the
new position of University Privacy Officer. Ms. Robin Beck (an ex
officio member of the Communications Committee) was also present
and she discussed progress as related to the work being done by
The University has made remarkable progress toward implementing
most of the recommendations made during the spring 2001 meeting
with Provost Barchi.
Much of the early effort was on reducing the use of social security
A University Privacy Officer within the Office of Audit and Compliance
has been appointed providing some prospect of continued progress
after the initial work is completed.
Communications Committee members were impressed by the vigor with
which these issues of Privacy are being pursued and the progress
made to date.
There was some discussion as to any further role for the Communications
Committee in this effort.
The work in this area has progressed to the point that there appears
to be little ongoing role for the Communications Committee except,
perhaps, in the area of directory privacy as University Directories
of various types have often come under the purview of this committee.
As in other areas investigated by this committee we anticipate a
possible problem with ongoing dissemination of information about
information privacy particularly to students and faculty. Plans
need to be devised to help overcome this "traditional"
a multi year project that began with a subcommittee appointed in
1994-95. Under the guidance of Professor Martin Pring (past chair,
Communications Committee) this policy was finally approved and the
final version published in Almanac (September 19, 2000).
Along with the approval of this Policy, there was a mandated review,
which was to take place at the end of the first year of implementation.
As requested, the Communications Committee reviewed the Electronic
Council, January 23, 2002 and published in Almanac (February
5, 2002). That report will not be repeated here. The key findings
were that 1) implementation of the policy appears to be reasonable,
and 2) the policy appears to be useful to those responsible for
handling requests for electronic information access. However, the
Committee found that knowledge of the policys existence was
minimal and that few outside of the Communications Committee and
those interpreting and enforcing the policy appeared to know of
University should take steps to improve dissemination of this policy
as well as the other policies that are related to appropriate use
of University-owned computers, networks and electronic information.
Communications Committee Member, Ms. Amy Johnson (Director of External
Relations, Office of the Vice President for Business Services) took
the initial steps toward this goal by arranging for publication
a handbook of University Resources, Policies and Procedures. Over
the long term, responsibility for ongoing publication of this policy
needs to reside at an administrative level and should not be the
responsibility of a University Council Committee. Publication in
the PennBook and in the Faculty Handbook appears to
be a minimum goal that has the potential of reaching a significant
percentage of those who should be aware of this policy.
Network Planning Task Force (NPTF)
the current academic year the Chair of the Communications Committee
continued to participate in the deliberations of the NPTF. As in
the prior year the Communications Committee representative was among
the few non-technical people attending these meetings and perhaps
was able to provide some perspective from the user viewpoint. NPTF
attendance continued to be a valuable experience and I recommend
that this arrangement be continued.
Penn Web Advisory Committee
committee was formed by President Rodin for the purpose of evaluating
and revising the current PENN Web Site. The Chair of the Communications
Committee is a member of this Web advisory committee and the Chair
of the Web Advisory Committee, Ms. Lori Doyle, is a member of the
Communications Committee. Thus the Communications Committee has
had ongoing influence on the advisory committees deliberations
during the past year. I recommend that this arrangement be continued.
Committee thanks Ms. Tram Nguyen of the Office of the Secretary
for her helpful and efficient staffing. The Committee also thanks
the many talented University personnel who took significant time
from their over filled schedules to meet with the Committee and
share their observations and expertise with us. We continued to
enjoy and appreciate an excellent working relationship with the
members of the ISC.
S. Smith, Chair
Communications Committee Members
David S. Smith (Anesth/Med);
Cristle Collins Judd (Music), Steven Kimbrough (Oper & Info
Mgmt), Martin Pring (Physiol/Med), Ann Rogers (Nursing), David Smith
(Anesth/Med), Dana Tomlin (Landscape Arch); Graduate/professional
students: Jennifer Baldwin (GSFA), Aveek Das (SEAS);
Diana Elkind (COL 03), Mariama Jerrel (COL 04);
Sutton (Wharton MBA Career Management), Helma Weeks (Commun/Vet
Rochelle Mitchell (General Counsels Office);
Ex-officio: Lori Doyle (Dir University Communications);
Amy Johnson (Business Serv), Paul Mosher (Vice Prov & Dir Libraries),
James ODonnell (Vice Provost for ISC).
Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 34, May 21, 2002