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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Student E-mail

The New York Times has a fun story about student-professor e-mail.  I've thought about this a lot, since I get a ton of student e-mail.  In the final analysis, I think the benefits far outweigh the costs and would encourage students to keep their questions and insights coming.  For some reason, even though each and every one of my students could beat me up if s/he wanted to, I still heard early on that I was unapproachable and intimidating.  Now that they all feel free to e-mail me, I suspect that incorrect first impression has been modified in many students' minds.  I still wouldn't mind a tad less familiarity -- but what can I do?  I am the new kid on the block and I've got to earn their respect; I'm not entitled to it on account of my title alone.

I should clarify one point: I don't mind familiarity about my dog or about personal life matters that students want to discuss.  I think of myself as an advisor and mentor -- and my job description requires that the teacher-student relationship extend a bit farther than pure classroom-related discussion.  But there are limits that some like to test -- and I haven't yet adjusted to quite where I draw the line.  Over time, I suspect I'll get a better sense of what I'm comfortable with and what makes me squirm.  But by then I'm likely to be old and bald and students will have no interest in being familiar with me anyway!

Posted by Ethan Leib on February 21, 2006 at 03:06 PM | Permalink


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"...even though each and every one of my students could beat me up if s/he wanted to...." That's one of the best lines I've read in a blog in a long time.

Posted by: John M. Kang | Feb 22, 2006 2:16:42 PM

Without addressing your proclivities (that I must disagree with and note my disapproval of) Ms. Hart, I agree with the general proposition. I am, after all, a (somewhat) young law student, and I would find it very fascinating to hear tales about grandchildren and whatnot from a certain distinguished (and not young at all) Civil Procedure Professor. Who, it must be noted, does not share such tales with my classmates and I, but rather educates us on the history of the Articles of Confederacy.

Posted by: Bev | Feb 22, 2006 2:03:37 PM

Well, *I* think its inappapropriate to assume students don't want to be familiar with bald professors.

Posted by: ms. hart | Feb 22, 2006 12:52:24 PM

Ms. Hart:

You are so inappropriate. Gosh.

Posted by: Bev | Feb 22, 2006 10:31:03 AM

Does anyone else see the irony in the above exchange?

Posted by: ms. hart | Feb 22, 2006 4:19:44 AM

Oops, make that Professor Leib.

Posted by: Yeler | Feb 22, 2006 3:07:11 AM


Couldn't you save that for a private e-mail? The rest of us don't need to know all the details. Of course, Professor Vladeck probably shouldn't be blogging about these issues directly, so maybe all sides should take this debate offline.

Posted by: Yeler | Feb 22, 2006 3:05:44 AM

I've wanted to do this for a long time, so now seems an opportune moment. I am offering my unsolicited advice regarding the informal (and, in my opinion, rude) manner in which some of my classmates speak to you.

Though I understand that you want to seem approachable to your students because you've gotten some bad reviews by a vocal few, I think that you must hold your ground. This means that if some of my classmates say things that are blatantly inappropriate (I've heard some of these comments), then YOU must show what is and isn't proper behavior. (One of our professors was very good about this last semester just by using a few frowns and some subtle remarks. We got the hint.)

What it boils down to is that you're our professor and we must treat you as more than our 'buddy.' This is not to say that we are to revere you and you are to dismiss us; rather, we should respect each other and acknowledge that there's a line that neither of us should cross. Some people, though, do cross that line and your silence leads them to believe that you're okay with it.

With all that said, please remain friendly and continue replying to our emails. Many of us think you're doing a great job, find you very approachable, and are bothered by the disrespect others show you.

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 21, 2006 10:02:09 PM

I read that article with some interest too. Even though I get a decent number of e-mails, I'm not bothered by it, and I usually think it's an effective and efficient way to answer basic questions. Maybe it's because law students, as a whole, are more mature and less needy than undergrads, as a whole (and the article had a lot about undergrads). But even if I got the occasional e-mail along the lines of "what kind of notebook should I buy?", it only takes 45 seconds to read that, type "any kind you want, as long as you can take notes in it effectively," and hit reply. I was kind of surprised at the prof. who was so put out by that question s/he refused to answer.

As to informality, well, some young folks are always going to seem a tad informal to less-young folks in positions of authority, but I haven't been shocked or dismayed by any behavior at my school.

As to talking about your personal life, yeah, the older you get, the less of a problem that's going to be ...

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Feb 21, 2006 4:12:07 PM

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