What’s Going on At AU?

It’s been an eventful week at AU. This Wednesday brought an announcement that you’ve probably already seen on social media and AU’s website, but if you haven’t, AU has finally chosen its next President, Dr. Neil Fassina. He officially starts in the position on October 11th, but in his announcement speech last Wednesday, the 17th, he announced that he’s going to “hit the ground listening”.

The Voice Magazine is in the process of trying to get an interview with Dr. Fassina, in the hopes that we can get him talking as well, and with luck, we’ll be bringing that to you in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can get up to speed with Dr. Fassina’s background at the official AU press release or at AU’s Office of the President page. The short version is that he has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Calgary, and his PhD is in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, and he professes his style to be one of consultation, promising to help us build AU into a “student focused open university and global leader in online and distance education, research, and technology.”

And then we have the AU email failure. If you’ve been too busy procrastinating, or too deep in studying to have sent an email to the university over the past few days, you may not have known that there was a day or so when every e-mail sent to the university was getting bounced back. Some of you may even know that it has something to do with the university changing its internal system to Microsoft Office 365, but that doesn’t tell you if you need to be worried about it happening again in the future, or what control AU has over it. Fortunately, here at The Voice Magazine we found some more detail for you.

It was explained in Facebook that the email problem was because of the university’s changeover to Microsoft Office 365, but I’ve been told that that’s not the whole story. According to my source, the problem stems from Athabasca University implementing a single server as a gateway/router for all emails to the university while they upgraded people to the new Microsoft system, in order for the emails to be properly delivered to both the new and the legacy systems AU has in place running various pieces of technology and other software. This server was also being used to filter out the masses of spam that AU receives. As the upgrade was completed, the IT department in AU started to loosen the spam filters slowly, to give the spam filtering features in Office 365 time to learn what was spam and what wasn’t. Eventually, however, the flow of spam became too much, and since all of it was coming from the one gateway server AU had implemented, that server got blacklisted as a spam origin point on multiple blacklists, starting with Microsoft’s. This resulted in every email coming from that server, which, at that point, was every email destined for an Athabasca university email address, to be blocked by the mailing systems.

AU has since contacted Microsoft, I’m told, as well as other sites that host blacklists, and explained the situation. The gateway server has been removed from those lists, and the spam filters on that server tightened up again, putting things back to normal. What I haven’t been able to find out yet is if there’s a chance this situation will recur when they once again try to remove the legacy systems from AU, or for how long students should be extra-vigilant at making sure their emails have been properly received at AU. Unfortunately, given the very limited time-frame (and that he’s probably extremely busy trying to solve these issues at the moment), the Director of IT operations, John Latremouille was unable to respond to my questions before press time. I’m hopeful we’ll have the answers ready for next week’s issue so that we can keep you informed about what to expect, and how to make sure it has as little effect on your studies as possible. What we do know, from Director of Communications, Jon O’Brien, is that notices were put on the student portal and various social media sites about the problem, and many tutors and units within AU were proactive in reaching out to give students alternative means to get in touch with them.

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