The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


E-mail breaks down barriers

Some wonder if student/teacher relationship is too informal

The convenience of technology is astounding. People can buy groceries and clothes online with just a click of a button and have them delivered right to the doorstep. The bank is practically obsolete – most people can order checks from the bank’s Web site and pay their bills online.

Following the technology trend, office hours at a university seem to be a waste of time for professors and students, since e-mail has become the new way to communicate.

But some professors at universities around the country have complained about e-mail.

It seems a number of professors are upset that e-mail has made them too accessible, according to a recent New York Times article. These professors complained that students send e-mails, expecting to be answered 24 hours a day, with all kinds of requests.

It was reported that one student asked for lecture notes from the professor, one student explained her failure to show up for class because of drinking and one student asked a professor whether she should buy a binder or a notebook for her class.

Is this e-mail “problem” an issue for Southern Methodist University, the way it seems to be an issue for other colleges around the country?

All signs point to no.

Michael Lusztig, a political science professor at SMU, said that in e-mails most “SMU students are respectful.”

SMU journalism professor Lori Stahl said, “E-mail is a huge advantage.”

However, Lusztig said students should be aware of the e-mails they send because of how they look and sound to professors. An e-mail full of typos and grammatical errors sends a message to professors, and they judge students based on those e-mails.

“I’m not saying students shouldn’t use e-mail,” he said.

He said if there are one or two simple questions a student wants to ask, there is not a problem with sending an e-mail. There is also not a problem with sending a respectful e-mail to make an appointment.

Most professors have about 70 students or more. An e-mail with a detailed question or asking a professor to look over a paper or assignment is a tough request, especially if every student did that.

Lusztig said that to write an e-mail, “there should be a reason why you wouldn’t come to that person’s office.”

Stahl said she enjoys the efficiency and timeliness of e-mail. She can set a deadline at a specific time, and she knows exactly what time the assignments are turned in. She also sees the advantage to students of being able to ask a quick question at any time, and the advantage to shy students being able to send a quick e-mail as an icebreaker.

“The more communication the better,” she said.

SMU junior Toni Martinez said, “E-mail makes things less awkward. It’s easier.”

Stahl said she has begun to see a pattern in the way students treat professors. It’s as though students don’t think professors know more than they do anymore, but she disagrees with the New York Times article and doesn’t attribute that problem to e-mail. She said e-mail is a symptom of this pattern rather than the cause.

Stahl also stressed the importance of punctuation, grammar and presentation in e-mail. She has no problem with informality in e-mails, but professionalism is important.

“I’m not locked into the roles we play,” she said.

Martinez said, “I try to be professional in e-mails, because I’m a college student and I want to leave a good impression.”

She said it’s important to her as a student to show respect to her professors, but she can understand what Stahl is talking about. However, Martinez doesn’t necessarily think that all students no longer look up to professors.

Stahl said she views students’ interaction with her as practice for the future. When someone sends a resume cover letter they make sure it is perfect, just like they dress up for an interview. The impression someone makes on his or her boss or potential boss is important. Stahl thinks students should practice this towards professors, and it should be reflected in e-mail.


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