On second thought, why shouldn't universities embrace existing online identities?
I've already established the importance of having email in a university environment. Firstly, it is a dual responsibility held by both staff and students who send and receive mail, although the responsibility is not necessarily mutually exclusive to each other. One person can send an important email, and if it is not received in time by the recipient, then it is the recipient's responsibility. This reminds me of the time I handed in an essay far too late...
When you join a university, you represent that establishment. When sending emails, you are clearly a part of that institution and can often work in your favour if sending from a highly reputable college. But there is often a single clear distinction between students and staff.
Staff will often have their name or some variant of their personal identity in their university email address. For me, it would either be z.whittaker or zack.whittaker, or z.a.whittaker, depending on the institution's policies.
Students on the other hand dominate the register of users so there are often more combination's of the same name, leading to alphanumerical addresses which include the initials of the student. Depending on how many same combination's of the same initials, an added incremental number will be added. For me, I have zaw2 which is my bog-standard university email address, and zaw3 as my overdraft account because my previous account exists.
Luckily I have a strange initials making my email address interesting to say on the phone.
But as Facebook now has usernames and Twitter enables us to use personalised addresses to further our online established identities, perhaps it would be of some use for colleges to help perpetuate this in an ever growing online world?
Consider @mediaphyter. For those who know who @mediaphyter is on Twitter, you'll know her overall online identity as the mediaphyter. Jen Leggio uses this online handle and identifies her as who she is, as no doubt there are other people out there with the same birth name as her. It's not just a username - it's an online identity.
So if that identity is already established on the web - and considering the way the web is nowadays, you can find more out about someone on the web than anywhere else - why shouldn't universities embrace this as a wider form of identity branding?
Instead of it being her initials and an incremental number, why not firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com?
To me, that makes more sense. That is, unless two or more people have the same handle, and that's when you would throw them in a ring, and watch them wrestle to the death to (literally) claw their identity back.