New CUNY Initiatives Supporting Academia

Brian Cohen, Vice Chancellor & Chief Information Officer

Computing and Information Services

Protecting You Through Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)


Lost or stolen user credentials, or an accidental click on a malicious email, can compromise both personal information and college data. Based on recommendations developed and adopted by our college CIOs to help protect against these types of security breaches, CUNY colleges are deploying Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).  

Many of us already use MFA technology when we log into our personal accounts like Apple, Google, or bank. This familiarity with an existing technology makes MFA adoption easier—several CUNY colleges have already deployed MFA to tens of thousands of accounts without issues or concerns expressed by students.

“MFA necessitates an additional security verification step when you log into a service, similar to what you may be familiar with when accessing your online bank account,” said Robert Berlinger, CUNY Chief Information Security Officer. “Microsoft MFA is available to CUNY through our current Microsoft license agreement at no additional cost. Thus, it is a good way to introduce multi-factor authentication when using Microsoft Office 365 for Education applications and services.” 

With Microsoft MFA, users confirm their identity by one of the following means after entering their Microsoft Office 365 login credentials:

  • Using the Microsoft Authenticator app on a mobile phone or tablet 
  • Typing a code in response to an SMS text message
  • Pressing the hash button (“#”) on a phone in response to a telephone call and typing in the spoken code 

“Microsoft Multi-Factor Authentication provides a simple, minimally intrusive way to improve security for our Microsoft Office 365 for Education users at CUNY,” added Robert. “Microsoft MFA is just the first step—CUNY is researching similar solutions to extend multi-factor authentication to other applications and services to provide even more security to users, colleges and the university.” 

To learn more about multi-factor authentication and Microsoft MFA, visit Microsoft Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on the CUNY website.  

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CISTraining Webinars and New Site

CISTraining is continuing to offer Microsoft Office 365 webinars to all faculty and staff.  Upcoming webinar topics include popular cloud applications, such as Microsoft Teams, OneDrive and Planner, a two-week series on Microsoft Office Word and Excel, as well as several focusing on accessibility features in Microsoft and Windows. 

To be more responsive to employee training needs and unanticipated demand for some webinar topics, CISTraining will now publish a monthly webinar schedule. The June webinar schedule is now available for course registration, and the July schedule will be posted during the first week of June.  

You can view the upcoming webinar calendar, register for training, access hours of full webinar recordings from the past year, and view edited video clips on a variety of topics on the CISTraining SharePoint site. You will be required to enter your CUNY Login credentials to access this site.

Employees who are interested in Teams training can access self-paced training tutorials on the Microsoft Support website and video clips from CUNY webinars on the CISTraining Stream site. If you are a manager and would like to request a Teams webinar for your department, please use the Request for Training form.

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CUNYfirst Now Hosted at CUNY

CUNYfirst successfully moved from CUNY’s hosting vendor Sierra Cedar to the CUNY data center over a 4- day period in March 2021. Multiple groups and people in CIS worked with college and other Central Office representatives to minimize impact to critical applications and to ensure a smooth move.

There are multiple benefits to moving CUNYfirst to the CUNY data center, including substantial cost savings along with the ability to change maintenance windows to better suit operational needs. CIS can now manage the timing for upgrades in order to minimize any impact on the academic and business calendars.  An additional, the CUNYfirst now runs more quickly – response time is faster, as is the time it takes to complete the overnight processing of batch jobs.

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Reminder: Listing Software in Akademos Virtual Bookstore

Faculty at the 18 colleges using the Akademos Virtual Bookstore should remember to list any academic or administrative software they plan to use in their classes at the same time they list books used in the class. This feature, first deployed for Spring 2021 classes, is available in the Software & Ancillaries stage of the adoption process.

As with textbooks, information about software used in a class is important for students to know as they select their classes. Additionally, it will help inform the University as to software that should be offered (purchased or renewed) University-wide for students and faculty on campus or at home. To date, faculty have listed software needed for approximately 1200 courses.

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Moving to Blackboard SaaS

In partnership with the Office of Academic Affairs, CIS is working to move Blackboard to the cloud using the Blackboard SaaS platform, a necessary change as Blackboard will no longer be hosting Blackboard in its existing environment. This change will occur while CUNY prepares to issue an RFP to identify its next generation LMS platform.


While the transition to the Blackboard SaaS platform will not bring visible changes for CUNY faculty and students, it provides a number of benefits including substantial annual cost savings and a 99.99% up time. Additional features, such as the reporting tool Blackboard Data, will also be available. Migration plans include moving 450,000+ courses in Blackboard to the SaaS environment. Dates for the migration are now being considered and will be announced when finalized. Following the migration, there will be no downtime experienced during any future upgrades.

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Acquisition of Ally to Support Accessibility

In order to support students who require course materials in a more accessible format, CUNY has licensed the accessibility tool Ally. Ally provides course content in multiple alternative formats for easier use by those using assistive technology or who need a more approachable format, including audio and electronic braille, html and ePub. Ally also translates course content into 50 languages. The tool also can provide instructor-specific feedback on the accessibility of course content that is uploaded in Blackboard. While Ally will be used with Blackboard currently, it is also compatible with many other LMS platforms. CUNY CIS will be working with the Office of Academic Affairs and Office of Student Affairs, as well as the colleges, on implementing and training users in the coming months.

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Reminder: CUNY IT Has Answers on CUNY-wide Technologies

Have questions about using Zoom? Need help with Blackboard? Just type in your keywords to obtain a list of articles about the service. CUNY IT Help should be the first place you go to find help and information about CUNY-wide applications and technology services. The collection of FAQs, articles and guides has grown since the site’s launch last Fall, as has the site’s usage.  #

  With the content now replicated in CUNY IT Help, the time has come to wean users off the CUNY website to CUNY IT Help. This will be done in phases over the coming months. Each phase will be accompanied by notices on the affected CUNY website pages announcing:  

  •  That the page’s content is now available in CUNY IT Help  
  • When the page’s links now point to the content in CUNY IT Help  
  •  If and when the website page will be retired 

In addition, other University departments and organizations are discussing the possibility of adding college technology content, such as college software, to CUNY IT Help. CUNY is well on the path to fulfilling the vision of CUNY IT Help as the one repository for information on all University and college technology services.

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CUNY Accessibility Conference on Online Learning Issues

The 12th Annual CUNY Accessibility Conference took place virtually from Tuesday, April 6 to Friday, April 9, drawing a record number of attendees. The conference, entitled “Perspectives on Access: Innovations, Lessons Learned, and Looking Forward” featured daily Keynote Speakers, including New York State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Denise Maybank, and Vice Chancellor and University Chief Information Officer Brian Cohen. It also hosted 16 sessions tackling numerous issues encountered in the change to online learning such as “Developing a Distance Learning Toolkit” and “Making Online Exams Accessible”. Panelists included representatives from various SUNY colleges, Portland State University, University of Washington, and Tufts University.

Recordings of the conference sessions are available to everyone on the conference YouTube page. Click for more information on the Conference.

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Launch of Respondus LockDown Browser


The Office of Acacademic Affairs worked in partnership with CIS and campus representatives to launch the Respondus LockDown Browser™ on schedule on March 16, 2021. Respondus LockDown Browser is a customized browser that increases the security of test delivery in Blackboard. When students access a Blackboard exam requiring LockDown Browser, they are unable to print, copy, go to another URL, or access other applications. CUNY is not using the webcam feature “Respondus Monitor,” so LockDown Browser does not include the real-time video viewing or recording often associated with online proctoring tools. 

For a complete list of LockDown Browser features, visit the Respondus website at CUNY Faculty and Student Guides and FAQs for using LockDown Browser, are available in CUNY IT Help.

LockDown Browser may only be required if the course description or course syllabus noted that a proctoring solution might be used, thus allowing the student to make an informed decision about enrolling in that course. Further information on the use of online proctoring and alternative forms of student assessment is available on the Alternate Forms of Student Assessment page on the CUNY website.

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We welcome your comments and ideas for new initiatives at