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COUNCIL Committee 2001-2002 Year-end Reports

Report of the Committee on Communications

April 26, 2002

Discussed at Council April 24, 2002


The Committee met four times during the academic year.

Remote Access, Express Modem Pool, "On-Line" Library Authentication

Background: On August 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.

Methods: The Communications Committee Chair’s 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.


1) 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.

2) 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 Committee’s 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.

3) The adequacy of materials provided to students and other University Personnel concerning Remote Access options has not been determined by this Committee.

4) 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.


1) The use of commercial ISPs for remote access appears to be accepted by most of the University Community.

2) 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 involved.


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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 easier.

Continuing Evolution of Penn Web Including the Undergraduate Admissions Web Site

Background: 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 Web’s 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.

Methods: There were 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).


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) There has been little change in the Undergraduate Admissions Web site since its revision last year.

4) There is as yet no data on user response to the revised Undergraduate Admissions Web site.


1) Progress is being made toward designing a new PENN Web site.

2) The Undergraduate Admissions Web site appears essentially unchanged from last year.

3) 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.


1) The ongoing relationship between the Communications Committee and the Penn Web advisory committee should be continued.

2) The relationship between the Communications Committee and the Office of University Communications should be continued.

3) The Office of Undergraduate Admissions should develop a review process for its Web site to determine its utility and acceptability to applicants.

4) 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 School’s admissions sites.

Implementation of Task Force on Privacy Recommendations

Background: 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.

Methods: There was periodic e-mail contact between Professor Gerald Porter and the Chair of the Communications Committee. There were also several e-mails from the Provost’s 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 ISC.


1) The University has made remarkable progress toward implementing most of the recommendations made during the spring 2001 meeting with Provost Barchi.

2) Much of the early effort was on reducing the use of social security numbers.

3) 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.

4) Communications Committee members were impressed by the vigor with which these issues of Privacy are being pursued and the progress made to date.

5) There was some discussion as to any further role for the Communications Committee in this effort.


1) 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.

2) 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" failing.

Review of the Electronic Privacy Policy

Background and Findings:

The development of an Electronic Privacy Policy for the University was 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 Privacy Policy during fall, 2001. This report was presented to University 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 policy’s existence was minimal and that few outside of the Communications Committee and those interpreting and enforcing the policy appeared to know of it.


The 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 of the Electronic Privacy Policy in the 2002-03 edition of the PennBook, 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)

During 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

This 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 committee’s deliberations during the past year. I recommend that this arrangement be continued.


The 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.

–David S. Smith, Chair

Communications Committee Members 2001-2002

Chair: David S. Smith (Anesth/Med); Faculty: 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); Undergraduate students: Diana Elkind (COL ’03), Mariama Jerrel (COL ’04); PPSA: Valerie Sutton (Wharton MBA Career Management), Helma Weeks (Commun/Vet sch); A-3: Rochelle Mitchell (General Counsel’s Office); Ex-officio: Lori Doyle (Dir University Communications); Amy Johnson (Business Serv), Paul Mosher (Vice Prov & Dir Libraries), James O’Donnell (Vice Provost for ISC).

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 34, May 21, 2002


May 21, 2002
Volume 48 Number 34

A National Medal of Science for a pioneering Penn physicist.

SEAS selects two recipients for its annual awards.
Wharton gives awards to dozens of its faculty.
The concern about bicyclists on campus picks up momentum.
Search Committees are formed to advise on selecting two new deans.
Next Tuesday is PPSA's annual meeting and election.
Baccalaureate and Commencement speeches and photographs.
University Council committee year-end reports on Bookstores, Communications, and Community Relations.
The largest voluntary canine blood donor program in the US gets new wheels.

Recognized Holidays for faculty and staff, and revisions to the Academic Calendar.

A dozen new CCTV locations for public spaces are added to those previously approved.