Harvard hangs up its landlines

 

If you want to disrupt higher education, you’ve gotta look the part.

So when the team at HarvardX,  the university’s online learning initiative, began setting up its new offices in Cambridge, down came the walls and the cubicles, in came the long tables and shared work spaces. And out went the landlines.

Or most of them anyway.

“The space was developed de novo and it was meant to have a kind of start-up feel,” said Michael Patrick Rutter, a spokesman for HarvardX.

Instead of  traditional desk phones, employees at HarvardX use their own cell phones and collect $50 per month from the university to help cover the bills.

As Justin Reich, a 36-year-old researcher at HarvardX, sees it, they’re just embracing the obvious.

“I think it’s more convenient,” he said. “I probably would have just given people my cell phone number anyway.”

The Great Landline Purge started years ago, when colleges began disconnecting dorm-room phones. Americans have also been ditching their relics. About 40 percent of American households were wireless-only at the end of 2013, up from 10 percent in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

When Harvard’s IT department set out a strategic plan in January, one of its main goals was to reduce use of “legacy phone infrastructure.” (Apparently that’s what we’re calling landlines now.)

“The landline system that the university uses is older and rates are increasing,” said Kevin Donovan, a spokesman for Harvard IT.

Donovan says the university isn’t forcing employees to dump their landlines. It’s already happening. And, true to form, Harvard has collected the data to back it up.

The number of calls from Harvard desk phones dropped 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, from more than 6.5 million to fewer than 4 million, according to the IT department.

Which means that most faculty and staff, should their department choose to follow HarvardX’s lead and dispense with office phones, are likely to respond like Reich did — with a shrug and a monthly expense report.

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