Friday, September 12, 2008

A modest proposal for Lee University

Unless it's bookmarked, getting to Lee University's site is a 12-keystroke hassle. Compared to other institutions like Virginia Tech (www.vt.edu) or the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (www.utc.edu), bringing up Lee's homepage can be a workout for the fingertips.

www.leeu.edu is the shortest domain name Lee University owns, but the URL doesn't direct to the school's homepage. Instead, it points to the student mail server login. Most students, however, never take a second look at the site because they have their leeu.edu e-mail forwarded to other accounts they started before enrolling at Lee.

The seemingly obvious solution is for Lee to register www.lee.edu, but that domain name is already owned – by Lee College in Texas. An even better alternative exists, however.

A quick search for www.lu.edu evokes a page which reads, "Sorry, www.lu.edu does not exist or is not available."

The company that handles .edu domain name registration, Educause, provides a domain availability checker at their website, www.educause.edu. According to the site, lu.edu is available for request.

The only cost of the name would be a $40 annual fee, less than the university's annual budget for sticky notes.

So why doesn't the university register www.lu.edu, and streamline the process of accessing the institution's homepage?

It's because institutions are no longer allowed to purchase more than one .edu domain name according to the policies set forth in a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Commerce and Educause.

Peter DeBlois, director of programs and media relations for Educause, said that it is impossible for schools to purchase more than one .edu domain name since the current policy went into effect in October 2001.

"They could change to a different one," he said, "[but the institution] can't get a new one."

Fortunately, Lee University purchased www.leeuniversity.edu in April 1997 and www.leeu.edu in August 1999, prior to the change in .edu operating policy. According to the rules, all pre-existing domain names are grandfathered in.

Steven Worona, director of policy and networking programs for education at Educause said that when Educause first negotiated domain name registration with the U.S. Department of Commerce, the department stated that keeping registration to a minimum was the primary concern.

"At the time, there was a limitation of two names [per school], where one was an abbreviation of the other," Worona said.

The abbreviation policy, which went out of effect in 2001, allowed Lee University to purchase the www.leeu.edu domain name in addition to www.leeuniversity.edu.

So will www.lu.edu ever be a shortcut to Lee University's site? Since the new policy went into effect it would seem unlikely, unless the university traded in one of the two existing domains.

Trading in www.leeu.edu or www.leeuniversity.edu would throw the school's e-mail system into chaos, however, since all faculty addresses operate on the longer domain and all student addresses depend on the shorter of the two. Trading domains would cause hundreds of e-mail accounts to disappear.

"We can't add any more .edu [addresses] regardless," said Nate Tucker, associate director of Information Services & Technology at Lee.

Tucker, however, stated that the university owns three domain names, not two. Lee purchased leecollege.edu in February 1996, prior to any restraint on the sale of .edu addresses.

The Lee Clarion proposes that Lee University trade in that long-forgotten third address for the shorter and simpler www.lu.edu, capturing a valuable two-letter domain name while it's still available.

The shorter domain would allow for faster access to the site by current students, staff and potential students, while saving strain on our over-working fingers.