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‘A Massive Headache’: Students Frustrated by Malfunctioning Club Email Lists

The Student Organization Center at Hilles is located in the Radcliffe Quadrangle and offers storage, office, and meeting spaces for clubs at the College.
The Student Organization Center at Hilles is located in the Radcliffe Quadrangle and offers storage, office, and meeting spaces for clubs at the College. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Club and house email lists managed by the Harvard Computer Society have been down for at least the past week, leaving students frustrated and in the dark.

HCS, a student-run computer science organization founded in the 1980s, started offering mailing list services to clubs on campus before Harvard implemented its own system. Though some groups opt for mailing lists on other sites, a number of clubs continue to use the HCS platform to publicize events and contact club members.

HCS co-president Will C. Cooper ’23-’24 wrote in an email estimating that “50-75 active club lists and on the scale of 10,000 inactive lists” are on HCS-run servers.

Cooper wrote HCS is aware of the issues with the mailing list, which he attributed to an expired SSL certificate — a security measure — and connection issues with the organization’s remote Amazon Web Services server.

In late February, club leaders began reporting problems with the email lists to HCS, though the lists were “still largely usable” at that point, Cooper wrote.

The problem intensified by April 4, when most undergraduates lost the ability to send or receive emails on lists run by HCS servers.

Winthrop House resident Tess C. Kelley ’23 said she noticed an issue with the email server when she tried to forward a message publicizing a student musical production to her house email list.

“I didn’t really notice I wasn’t getting forwarded emails anymore — I wasn’t getting list-serv emails — until that happened,” said Kelley, a Crimson magazine editor.

Lauren L. Zhang ’24, co-director of Harvard Minuet, said she first realized she was unable to send or receive emails last week.

“It’s just been a massive headache for coordinating meetings and trips, and the thing is, we didn’t get an error message straightaway,” said Zhang, an inactive Crimson news editor. “The error message probably came in two days later.”

Kristin B. King ’23-’24, president of the Harvard Curling Club, said they first noticed problems with the club’s email list around mid-February but did not receive any error messages.

“People have been experiencing it on different timelines, but no one’s had any sort of resolution,” King said. “The HCS website is down, so I have no idea how to contact them.”

“At this point, we’re probably just gonna have to make a new email list, which is really unfortunate because our previous email list had all of our alumni donors,” King added. “To lose that network is a massive problem for us.”

In 2017, HCS’s email list system faced scrutiny when The Crimson reported that over 1.4 million emails, including financial information and grades, stored on their servers were publically available.

Over the past few years, maintaining email lists has been the “largest source of stress” for HCS leadership and tech teams, Cooper wrote.

Cooper wrote HCS does not know when the issue will be fixed, though they hope to provide club leaders with “an alternative method of communication” if the problem is not resolved within two weeks. He added that HCS is looking into transferring mailing list responsibilities to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences or Harvard University Information Technology.

“We apologize for the inconveniences that this issue has caused for the greater community, and we appreciate everyone’s patience,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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