Much of the complaint recorded in the article also seems much ado about nothing. As Margaret Soltan observes, what’s the big deal about answering the kid who wants to know about school supplies? It’s almost kind of sweet that the student asks, actually. I get queries from junior high school kids who want me to do their homework for them, more or less: what does it cost me to be gentle and modestly accomodating in return? A few moments. I suppose all the people waiting on answers from me where they have more of a right to expect an efficient and forthcoming reply might complain were I to give away my time so freely to less urgent matters, but then a gentle reply to a slightly odd question ought to be the least of their worries about the crisp organization of my informational labor.
(As a bonus, he also has a comment from one of the faculty quoted, correcting one of the statements in the article…)
Of course, I am an academic, so it turns out that I’m contractually obligated to say something about this, so there’s more below the fold (including my favorite type of student email, which wasn’t mentioned in the article…).)
My reaction to most of the faculty complaints was, basically, “What planet are you people from?” In addition to the griping about perfectly reasonable or oddly naive questions, there are real head-scratchers like this one:
Professor Ewick said 10 students in one class e-mailed her drafts of their papers days before they were due, seeking comments. “It’s all different levels of presumption,” she said. “One is that I’ll be able to drop everything and read 250 pages two days before I’m going to get 50 of these.”
I really don’t get that one– I beg and plead with students to send me drafts of their written work in advance, because it gives me a chance to fix some of the more egregious mistakes before I have to dock them points. If I ever got ten of them to actually do it, I’d dance a freakin’ jig– I’ll gladly skim over ten papers two days before the due date if it means I get to avoid putting grades on ten dreadful papers.
I’m also puzzled by the source of some of the comments: two of the people quoted (one faculty member, one student) are at Amherst. I could sort of understand being annoyed by student email at a huge, impersonal research university, but if you’re going to get cranky about having to deal with students, why are you working at a small liberal arts college? (Then again, it is amherst…)
Interestingly, the article brings up a few issues that were discussed in a panel at Boskone on information management, most notably the idea that in the age of email and cell phones, you’re expected to be “on call” at all times, and always available. It’s nice to see the New York Times catching up to the concerns of SF fans…
I was also disappointed that the article left out my favorite type of student email, which I’ll paraphrase here:
Good morning professor, this is N. from your physics class, and I’m writing to say that I don’t know if I’ll make it to class today. I was up all night with a high fever and vomiting and blood leaking from my eye sockets. I’ll really, really try to make it to class, but if I can’t, I’m sorry.
To which my response is always “Dear God, no! Stay in bed. If I see you coming to class, I’m locking the door.” Maybe I’m falling for a clever ruse, but really, I catch enough cruddy little flu bugs from my classes as it is– I’ll accept a few extra absences to avoid the Ebola virus…