The professor blogs are abuzz about To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me, a New York Times front-page story about inappropriately needy, rude, or revelatory email from students to professors.
I have only two comments: First, this was an article that was mostly about undergraduates. In my experience this sort of thing is almost never a problem for me with UM law students. On the other hand, I see it all the time in requests I get from undergrads who want to go to law school (or to some other part of UM) and think I will be their research assistant or white pages service. Not to mention the occasional foreign law student or US high school student, who wants me to do their homework for them. Including the the unforgettable one who wrote me during final exam season that my essay on the three top problems in cyberlaw was urgently needed by 2pm that day…
Second, one striking thing about the NYT article (which may explain the above?), is that it it mostly quoted female professors. Could it be that undergraduate students find women more approachable, or look at them and see mommy? Are the students in some sexist manner more willing to bother the women than the men because they see the men as more ‘professional’? Or are the women faculty more willing to speak out about the problem? Or just more likely to feel lingering guilt about not responding–something that the men perhaps tend to dismiss?
I get the same types of e-mails discussed in the story. I get them all the time. But I don’t whine about them. First, I consider it my job to explain “on the record” about issues in the course. If I get suspicious that a text reply might be taken out of context, I request that the student come by my office hours. I feel free to ignore the silly or rude requests. That usually gets them to question what they did wrong.
In addition, I consider all my conversations in all media now exisiting or yet to be discovered to be potential teaching moments. If students are rude with me and I can explain to them why they should avoid being rude to authority figures, they are less likely to make that mistake with their first boss.
I wish the Times had talked to a prof who thinks e-mail contact with students is exasperating but beneficial.