The Harvard Alumni Association discontinued the ability to create new @alumni.harvard.edu email forwarding accounts last month, leaving this year’s graduates unable to obtain the email handle which many say is important to job searches and networking.
HAA announced the change on its website in recent weeks, citing a number of technological issues related to phishing, spam, and email loss as reasons for the change. The email service — which will still be accessible to users with existing accounts — allows alumni to create an email alias in the format firstname.lastname@example.org, which permits users to receive forwarded communications but not send their own messages.
Harvard plans to establish a working group in the fall semester composed of IT personnel, administrators, and students to determine other ways of using technology to support alumni while taking into account cost, security, and liability, according to Prashanth “PK” Kumar ’21, the Second Marshal of the College’s Class of 2021. In the meantime, graduates may continue to access their existing school email accounts — such as the @college.harvard.edu account for undergraduates — for an additional 365 days.
Mena W. Ahmed, the outgoing president of the Graduate School of Design’s student government, said the termination of alumni forwarding emails is the opposite of what she and other students hoped for.
Ahmed, a former member of the Harvard Graduate Council, helped pass memorandums through the Council earlier this year that urged the University to extend access to existing email accounts, which have full functionality, to support graduates in job searches and networking opportunities — a service many peer institutions currently provide.
“My hope is that instead of them just making a better functioning alias account, they actually make a fully functioning email address that you can send and receive emails from — because that is exactly the point of an email,” Ahmed said. “I don’t know what the point of an alias account is, to be honest.”
In fact, issues with the forwarding functionality were part of the reason HAA decided to shut down the service, according to its website.
“It’s important to know that emails sent to your email forwarding address are often perceived as spam or phishing attacks by email providers like Gmail or Yahoo,” the website reads. “With this in mind, your email provider may reject emails sent to your forwarding address resulting in you not receiving them. If this happens, the alumni help desk will not be able to fix or troubleshoot this problem.”
Though the University working group will aim to provide a better solution, Kumar said he was not sure what form that might take.
“It did seem like a final decision to remove the forwarding because the technology is becoming more obsolete — no one really uses email forwarding as much,” he said. “I do think that they’re trying to create some sort of alternate solution that keeps people happy — I’m not exactly sure what it will be.”
Harvard Graduate Council President Peter Choi acknowledged that some students are not aware of the issues with mail forwarding and the hurdles to providing fully functioning emails for graduates.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Alumni email addresses, they’re not expensive, right?’ And the truth is, they’re actually quite expensive,” he said. “Maintaining IT — any kind of memory capacity storage — is expensive. If you get any sort of G-Suite for business access, it’s 4 to 6 dollars a person. Multiply even $1 by several thousand, it’s going to cost money.”
Harvard Extension School student Andrew Pham said having a Harvard alumni email makes job searches easier.
“Frankly, if you’re sending cold emails out looking for an opportunity, the receiver is more likely to read it if they immediately see [Harvard] before they open the email,” Pham said. “So I think it’s a really nice service for our university to provide, if they could do it.”
Pham conceded that email forwarding is “a thing of the past,” but argued Harvard has the financial means to provide graduates with “fully-featured email accounts” in lieu of this outdated service.
“A full Google account would probably be something that’d be really easy to implement, though not free, but I think it would be negligible to Harvard,” he said. “I think that it’s to be expected that you get an alumni email after you graduate from your school — pretty much all the other universities do it.”
Choi said he and others across the University are conducting research to explore alternative services in an effort to help the working group this fall.
“We’re just asking other universities, ‘How do you guys handle this?’” he said. “As we gather more data points, and hopefully compile a formal report and bring it to this task force, this working group, I think we’ll get a better sense of where Harvard wants to go.”
—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.
—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.