You’ve got mail – and we want a reply now…

This article appeared in the Australian Higher Education supplement 8th March: You’ve got mail and we want a reply now.

"email has brought down the ivory tower. No longer can academics exist on a higher, seemingly inaccessible plane, aloof from the day-to-day worries, real and imagined, of the student body…."

"As more fee-paying students populate the nation’s campuses, teachers are becoming besieged by their so-called customers. And with lecturers’ email addresses displayed prominently on web page biographies, they are seen as fair game."

It goes on to provide examples and quotes from Aussie academics ( including me) – however, my responses were actually in response to an article that appeared in the New York Times: To: Profesor @ Subject: Why its all about me (you have to register – for free – to gain access to the NYT)

"One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.

Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: "Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I’m a freshman, I’m not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!"

At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.

"The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding," said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. " ‘I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,’ with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative."

He added: "It’s a real fine balance to accommodate what they need and at the same time maintain a level of legitimacy as an instructor and someone who is institutionally authorized to make demands on them, and not the other way round."

That’s just a short extract – why not read the entire article, then review the Australian one – peronsally, I think the Aussies quoted have a far more realistic approach to the issue – which can be managed very comfortably!!
If you have any thoughts/experiences to add this debate, please add them to the comments of this post!