Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No e-mails, ever, almost

Spring-Serenity Duvall, who teaches at Winston-Salem’s Salem College:

For years, student emails have been an assault on professors, sometimes with inappropriate informality, sometimes just simply not understanding that professors should not have to respond immediately. In a fit of self-preservation, I decided: no more. This is where I make my stand!

As quoted in Don’t Email Me (Inside Higher Ed).
The only e-mails Duvall will countenance are those requesting face-to-face meetings outside of office hours. She reports wonderful results. But I wonder: the rhetoric of “assault” and “self-preservation” feels a tad melodramatic. And, yes, “inappropriate informality” abounds, online and off-. But person-to-person e-mail is an inherently informal form of communication. Better that students should learn to use it with appropriate measures of informality and patience than not use it at all.

What surprises me is that Duvall encourages telephone calls during office hours (when of course she might be talking with students who have come in to ask questions). Calls would seem to me like much greater interruptions.

For guidance on how to e-mail professors who are willing to read e-mails, see How to e-mail a professor. Its numbers are nearing the half-million mark. More recent and less widely read: How to e-mail a student.

[I would like to link to Duvall’s blog post, but it’s no longer online.]

comments: 4

Fresca said...

Online misunderstandings ––and worse!–– are a big problem for everyone.
Have you read Mary Beard's article in the recent New Yorker yet, about online threats and insults?

I appreciate how she takes each e-writer on. Like other people on the topic, she says that sometimes the person who writes the threats/insults doesn't even realize their impact and change their tune when they talk to the person herself.

I can see why most of us don't want to talk to trolls, but the response of the teacher you quote disheartens me:
I can well imagine how annoying students' e-mails are, but who is going to teach kids to communicate well on e-mail if their teachers won't?

I'd want to say to her, Please don't just hand them along to the world no better prepared than before to communicate online.

Good on ya, Michael, for your simple instructions on how to e-mail a teacher or a student.

Michael Leddy said...

I haven’t read the Mary Beard piece yet, but I’ve read something else about it. It’s on my to-read list.

About the how-to: thanks. I can say that the quality of my e-mail-from-students life has improved a lot since I wrote that advice. (Originally for my students, now with a much wider audience.)

Frex said...

You have done a good deed in a naughty world.

Michael Leddy said...

Have now read The New Yorker piece. Much respect to Mary Beard. I’m going to mention this piece when I hit Odyssey 21 (when Telemachus tells his mother to get lost).