Year-end Committee Report
Report of the Communications
Scheduled for Discussion at
Council on February 25, 2004
report summarizes the work of the Communications Committee
for the period fall 2002 through fall 2003. The Committee
was given five specific charges for this period. We will
discuss them individually.
Continue to monitor the evolution of the Penn Web site,
assessing its effectiveness as a communications tool
for the various constituencies both inside and outside
Committee was briefed by Ms. Lori Doyle, VP, and others
from University Communications, regarding the Penn Web
site. It has been redesigned by a professional group, whose
efforts were donated to Penn. Ms. Doyle was satisfied that
the Web site is performing well. She noted the lack of
complaints about it. The Committee raised the issue of
the need to define goals and evaluation criteria explicitly,
and to measure the success of the Penn Web site in terms
of these. This is a matter that should be monitored in
representatives from University Communications emphasized
the role of the Penn Web site in branding the University.
A long-term effort by ICS was considered, and discussed
by the Committee, to convert both the public presentation
and the URLs from UPenn to Penn (e.g., www.penn.edu,
instead of the present www.upenn.edu). Related to
this is the concern that the national image of Penn is
confused with Penn State. After due consideration,
ICS has decided that the effort would be too costly. The
status quo will remain in effect.
Committee did not uncover any resevoir of complaints about
the Penn Web site. Again, it did note the need to define
measures of success explicitly. An online survey is being
conducted regarding the Penn Web site and there will be
continuing efforts to improve it.
Continue to monitor the quality of access to University
Committee interpreted this charge as the need to monitor
the consequences of the University effectively eliminating
modem access to its network. Instead of providing dial-up
modem access to off-campus members of the Penn community,
the current policy is to rely on third party (normally
commercial) Internet service providers (ISPs) and to require
that individuals make their own arrangements for service.
Committee discussed this matter and found the current policy
unexceptionable. Student members of the Committee did note
that it is "unclear who to contact" if an off-campus
student has working Internet access but difficultly accessing
Penn-based service, e.g., e-mail. This is not a problem
for students in dorms or for faculty and staff, since support
is provided by their employment units. Students reported,
in particular, support ambiguities regarding e-mail accounts
of dual majors.
Committee notes that the problem might be resolved successfully
if the relevant information were made readily available
on the Penn Web site.
Investigate means to ameliorate negative impacts of both
printed and on-line University directories on personal
Committee understood this problem to be one of more effectively
communicating that individuals may opt out of the directory
listings and of facilitating those who wish to do so. ISC
indicated that it is looking into technical/administrative
ways to make it easier for individuals to opt out. This
investigation, however, is not complete, and the Committee
agreed to defer it to next year. ISC has recently begun
an on-line directory project, thus it is appropriate that
the Committee consider this issue next year, when ISC can
report substantial experience with the matter.
Investigate the effectiveness of the recent changes in
the University's signage.
Committee heard a briefing by, and discussed this issue
with, Mr. Daniel Garofalo of the Division of Facilities
and Real Estate Services. The immediate impetus for replacing
the existing signage (now 10 years old) was that it is
not in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities
Garofalo presented the new signage designs and noted that
they had been created by an appropriate consulting firm
(and that they comply with the Americans with Disabilties
Act). Stylistically, the new signs differ from the previous
versions, due mainly to changes of fashion during the last
10 years. The Committee had no comment on the designs.
signage on the Penn campus was to have been replaced by
fall 2003. That is, phase 1 (Spruce to Walnut, 34th-38th
Streets) was to have been completed by fall 2003. The project
is behind schedule, but on budget, and the planned first
phase should be completed during spring 2004. Once done,
the rest of the campus will be converted in subsequent
phases but these have not been defined. Mr. Garofalo thought
it possible to complete the conversion of Penn's campus
during 2004, however.
Committee noted that Penn signage conversion off of the
Penn campus, e.g., the Arboretum, on Boathouse Row, and
Wharton West, will need to be planned and implemented,
and monitored. Mr. Garofalo's explanation for the current
project's being behind schedule adverted to the time costs
of relying so completely on a consulting firm from New
York. He reported that future phases of the project should
go quicker after management arrangements are adjusted.
Examine technical issues and privacy concerns that stand
in the way of e-mail communication with various constituencies
with the University community and recommend steps to
deal with these constraints.
number of recognized groups at Penn such as the WPSA (Weekly-
paid Professional Staff Assembly) among others have concerns
regarding communication with their constituents. The problem,
as they see it, is in obtaining e-mail addresses for their
constituents. The information is available to them, but
for a price. ISC charges a fee, e.g., to compile a list
of employees for WPSA. The fee is cost-based, since ISC
does not have budget for this task. The groups needing
this information, such as WPSA, do not have budget either,
hence the problem.
Committee notes the problem and suggests that ways might
be explored to fund this legitimate activity, even perhaps
with University resources.
to the above issues, the Committe spent considerable time
discussing matters pertaining to unwanted e-mail. Here
is a summary of the Committee's discussions.
recognizes that e-mail is a source of invaluable messages
and a source of annoying, unwanted spam and, indeed, much
in between. To the extent that unwanted e-mail messages
can be eliminated, or quickly discarded, there will be
individual and social benefit to the Penn community. The
problem is complicated by the fact that huge variation
exists in what various individuals—quite legitimately—wish
to count as spam.
Communications Committee undertook a series of discussions,
and heard a number of presentations, pertaining to the
problem of unwanted e-mail at Penn. The Committee considered,
at varying lengths, three sources of unwanted, or potentially
and in violation of relevant rules
and not in violation of relevant rules
unwanted e-mail is surely the largest part, indeed nearly
all, of the problem. It is also the part of the problem
least amenable to policy treatment. The Committee heard
a report from the Vice President of Communications's office
regarding ongoing efforts to reduce the spam problem at
Penn. This is a universal problem and Penn is surely
best advised to follow broader technical developments as
they occur, testing them for effectiveness in the Penn
environment, and deploying accordingly. Both client-side
(e.g., residing on individual PCs reading e-mails) and
server-side (e.g., on the machines processing the e-mails
themselves) solutions are available, are under development,
and are being tested. Testing is occurring both at the
Communications office level and by various schools at Penn.
At present, there appears to be little difference of opinion
and essentially no controversy regarding policy actions
on this matter. It merits continuing review and attention,
internally-generated and improper unwanted e-mail, the
Committee noted that this is covered by existing policies
and does not seem to be a problem.
the Committee discussed at greatest length the matter of
internally-generated fully proper bulk e-mail messages.
The current system is centralized in the office of the
VP for Communications (Lori Doyle), and in brief works
as follows. There are two main parts.
an individual or group at Penn wishing to send a mass e-mail
to the Penn community must apply to Lori Doyle's office
for permission. Most requests are denied in the interests
of minimizing unwanted e-mail in the Penn community. Many
of the decisions are, by report of Lori Doyle, difficult,
involving careful tradeoffs between competing interests
and values. Even with optimal decisions by the VP for Communications,
there is little doubt that some unwanted messages will
be sent, and some wanted messages will not be sent. This
appears to be recognized in the Penn community and there
has been no discernable outcry about errors. The Committee
did, however, hear claims from some individuals that unwanted
mass e-mails had been sent. The number of such mailings,
however, is generally agreed to be small.
an individual or group at Penn wishing to send bulk e-mail
to a portion of the Penn community is able to purchase
a mailing list from the office of the VP of Communications.
The price reflects the cost to the office of setting up
and maintaining the mailing list. There was some suggestion
from members of the Committee that the price was a significant
barrier to some legitimate groups, who were thus not getting
their messages out. But this was only a suggestion; we
did not see detailed documentation.
discussing the matter of internally-generated proper bulk
e-mails, the Committee recognized that two types of error
are possible: sending of unwanted e-mail and failure to
send wanted e-mail. The Committee also generally recognized
that no general policy, formed independently of individual
choices and preferences, is likely to be optimal.
the Committee addressed the following question: Are there
ways of reducing the decision making burden on the office
of the VP of Communications while at the same time increasing
the efficiency of the internally-generated proper bulk
e-mails at Penn? (By "increasing the efficiency" we mean
reducing either or both of the two types of error: sending
unwanted e-mail and failing to send wanted e-mail.)
Committee did not come to any firm recommendation regarding
a new policy. Instead, the Committee generally discussed
three options and wishes to note them for future consideration.
The three options are broadly as follows.
System with Labelled Subjects
option is simplest and cheapest, and was suggested by the
staff of the VP of Communications. The idea is to open
up bulk e-mails to legitimate groups at Penn and let them
undertake mass e-mailings, on provision that a tag or code
is added to the subject line of the e-mail messages. Groups
would have to employ tags as directed and the tags would
come from a small, approved set. This would allow a user's
client-side spam filter to remove the message if the user
judged its category to be unwanted. For example, the athletic
department might be given a tag for announcing ticket sales.
Individuals not wanting to hear further about this topic
could instruct their spam filters to block messages with
the tag in question.
idea here is that any University office can operate a listserver,
with people joining the distribution list by a message
with "Subscribe" in the subject line (and opting out by
one with "Remove"). The office owns the list and can send
messages to those on it. It can archive those messages
and accessory material on its web site, and include links
to it in the messages if it likes. There is an exact model
of this already in e-Almanac and its Web archive
and postings of news between issues. As an example Recreation & Intercollegiate
Athletics could operate one for recreational users and
another for information about athletic events and tickets.
the list can be automated and requires minimal manual intervention.
ISC's role would be reduced to providing the server space
and occasional troubleshooting, for both of which they
charge appropriately. Although University Notification
would not be involved it would be reasonable for them to
send a University-wide message once a year, say in September,
informing people what lists they can subscribe to. Otherwise
University Notification messages could be strictly restricted
to those of broad interest, such as the Lowery memorial,
or importance, such as those containing substantive information
on emergency procedures.
this scheme there would be a centralized record kept of
who wants in and who wants out of the available e-mail
lists at Penn. These could be categorized, so that, for
example, one could "opt in" for all mailings from the athletic
department regarding ticket sales. The scheme could be
implemented simply via a Web interface. Only truly essential
e-mails would be sent to the entire Penn community and
these could not be subject to "opt out". Once or twice
a year, members of the Penn community could be reminded
of the "opt-in/opt-out" web site for bulk e-mails.
Committee noted that these three approaches are not necessary
in opposition and could be combined. The Committee
was not prepared to make a recommendation for action
at this time, and recognized
that while this is an important matter, there is no screaming
urgency to resolve it. The Committee does recommend the
matter remain "on the table" and be monitored in the future.
Committee on Communications
Chair: Steven Kimbrough
(OPIM); Faculty: Al
Filreis (English), Steven Kimbrough (OPIM);Martin
Pring (physiol/med), David Reibstein (mrktg), David
Smith (anesthesia/med),R. Polk Wagner (law), Karen
Winey (materials sci); Graduate students: Amish
Jhaveri (Wharton), Evelyn Kelly (SAS); Undergraduate
students: James Kim (WH'06), Conor O'Callaghan (EAS'05) PPSA: Deirdre
Gillin (Penn Fund), Debora Weber (Info Svcs/Med); WPSA: Mindy
Ehrhart (Germanic & Slavic Languages); Ex officio: Robin
Beck (vice president, info syst & comp), Lori Doyle
(vp, communications), Lee Nunery (vp, business services).