Here's some clarification on my views, since my original post contained
a conceptual error, as well as wording that is not explicitly contained
in Google's various TOS pages. I'm glad to learn that Gmail won't be
using any personal communications in any way other than to provide the
Gmail service; this is something I overlooked.
However, as written, the TOS in Google Docs and Spreadsheets (presumably
a service which Google, the University, or both will promote to MSU
students) gives Google a great amount of privilege in its legal usage of
user-submitted content. Though they state that only content made
available to "members of the public" is fair game, they do not
explicitly outline the group(s) that this term encompasses. Logically,
"members of the public" could include recipients of email in which a
link to a Google document could be contained.
Further, in conjunction with Google's Universal terms of service, any
content submitted or received (regardless of which Google service the
information resides upon) is subject to this clause: "Google reserves
the right (but shall have no obligation) to pre-screen, review, flag,
filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service."
Though Google does not have an "unlimited" license to the user-submitted
content, it has wide-reaching rights, per its terms of service, to make
use of that content in ways which are violative of University
information-handling principles and precedent.
I can understand that this offer is attractive in the face of
skyrocketing IT costs, but it sets a precedent that is deeply
troubling. As more information is synthesized, manipulated, and
transferred over computers and networks, a question of precedent arises
as to the role of the University in the management of its information.
My comment about money in the first email was inspired by my belief that
it is the University's responsibility as a public institution to keep
its information and knowledge from being given freely to a private
entity. I pay the University tuition. At least a few of these dollars
go toward the current IT system that the University maintains. Would I
see a substantial savings in my tuition if the University contracted
information handling services out to an organization? Even if so, what
kind of precedent does outsourcing of University data set for the role
of a public institution of higher education? Upon invention of the
filing cabinet, did the University ever contemplate outsourcing of
records storage to a private company that owned a warehouse full of
filing cabinets? The United States has long had a public postal
system. There were good reasons for this, and the system has served us
well. The integrity of personal communication is essential to the
progressive nature of a public institution like Michigan State, and
given the nature and terms of Google's offer, I cannot see a reason why
it would be in Google's interest to maintain this integrity.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.