My only problem with email is the quantity

Maybe it’s Minnesota, or maybe it’s me, but this situation with professors complaining about student email doesn’t really affect me. It’s been my experience here that UMM students are usually friendly and trouble-free with email (haven’t you heard? We’re all nice up here!), and I even welcome the complaints—I’d rather hear from the students than not hear from them, especially if they’re worried about something. I also like my email terse and to the point, so I’m not at all discomfited by a message that would be rudely abrupt if said to my face.

One thing would absolutely drive me nuts, though, and it’s this horrible piece of advice.

Meg Worley, an assistant professor of English at Pomona College in California, said she told students that they must say thank you after receiving a professor’s response to an e-mail message.

“One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back,” Professor Worley said.

Ugh. Email is a communication medium, and the less we clutter it up with rank and power and hierarchical crap the better; there’s enough real power disparity between me and my students that I don’t need it acknowledged, and I’d prefer it were minimized. As for bouncing back with a superfluous “thank you”…no, thank you. That’s just noise in the channel, one more scrap of clutter in my mailbox.

(via The Washington Monthly)

I think Tim Burke and I agree on this one, and I note in the comments that Worley was misquoted—what she was suggesting is actually much more reasonable.


  1. #1 Loris
    February 21, 2006

    As a graduate student teaching a junior-level course (uncommon at my institution) I am more friendly/familiar with my students than I would be if I were an actual professor. The students mostly address me by my first name in class or office hours, but I find they’re more formal in e-mail. For instance, using my last name, attaching the title Dr. or Ms, etc. I rarely complain about informal e-mails, but I do tell them that they need to use something close to standard English with punctuation when communicating in an academic/professional environment.

    The other thing I tell them is that they need an email address for school and other professional type communications that is at the least non-offensive/vulgar. My suggestion is often to open a university account that is their first initial and last name. Professors may look askance at e-mails from, and if you use your name for e-mails of this type, I know who you are.

    I think the only time I corrected a student (briefly, friendly, after class) he e-mailed Mrs. Instructor, not Ms. and I told him I wasn’t married, so the Mrs. did not apply to me. Shockingly, he didn’t know Mrs. is only for married women, and thanked me for clarification.

  2. #2 Emily
    February 21, 2006

    I’m a grad student and this is my first semester teaching, and the thing I’ve noticed about student emails is that the amount I receive increases exponentially two days before the deadline for a big project that they’ve had one entire month to work on.

  3. #3 Socialist Swine
    February 22, 2006


    Have you ever had a student e-mail you and offer you money (especially a ridiculously low sum like $20) for an answer key? I’ve had that happen three or four times. I seriously don’t know what some people are thinking.

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