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Should Professors Ban Student Emails?

By Prindle Institute
10 Sep 2014
Email, miniyo43, (cc-by-sa-2.0)

A few weeks ago Spring-Serenity Duvall, an assistant professor of communications at Salem College, banned student emails. It began with a syllabus policy identifying when students could email her for things, the idea being that students simply shouldn’t email for things that they could easily find out for themselves. But the list became complicated, and finally she decided to…ban all student emails, unless it was to set up an appointment to come see her. As draconian as it sounds, Duvall self reports success, and even that her students enjoyed the policy. As this article notes

After one semester, Duvall said, the email policy has been an “unqualified success.” She reported spending less time filtering through “hundreds of brief, inconsequential emails,” and noticed that students came to class better-prepared and wrote better papers. She allowed one exception to the rule — students emailing her content relevant to the course. During her decadelong career as a college instructor, Duvall said, she has never received more phone calls and more student visits during her office hours. 

Students, in turn, gave the course better evaluations than previous cohorts, and rated Duvall’s concern for their progress and efforts to make herself accessible as “excellent.” Only one student out of 48 had something to say about the email policy — a quibble about not being able to ask simple yes-no questions — but even that student endorsed Duvall’s preference for in-person meetings.

But is this really a good policy? Should professors ban student emails? Danielle DeRise, responds to the above article arguing that they should not. Interestingly, not because she thinks the policy is draconian, but that students ought to figure out email etiquette for themselves. As she notes:

But isn’t there something to be said for letting young adults — especially those enrolled in a communications course — navigate the delicate rules of student-professor etiquette on their own? For letting them fail at it even? Suppose you email about a problem your professor deems trifling. The two worst consequences are (a) no response or (b) a snippy response. In my own college days, I sent emails that at the time seemed vital but that I now recognize as self-absorbed and/or irritatingly Type A. After a few terse one-liners from professors I admired, I became a less zealous emailer.

What do you all think? Is it permissible for professors to ban email, or not?

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