What is an appropriate level of email communication from a university?
February 4, 2014 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I might be getting a bit curmudgeonly in my graduate student years, but I'm starting to get annoyed at how many mass emails I get from my university. What should I be expecting here, and should I do anything about it?

To give a bit more background, I am a graduate student, am not particularly active in anything on-campus, and have never opted into any communication. I've regularly receive emails from the departments around the campus, including distinctly non-academic departments (the school's transportation department, academic department, bookstore, and recreation center) . Worse, several of the departments copy emails from other departments and then send reminder emails - recently I counted receiving the same email six times. My total email volume is usually 4-6 emails per day, of which perhaps one a week is relevant to me (and comes from my actual program). I've tried contacting the University's IT about email spam, but their responses have been less than helpful.

Best I can tell from researching the school's policy, there's no University prohibition on spamming students with unsolicited email. Is this in line with other Universities or am I just getting upset over nothing?
posted by saeculorum to Technology (15 answers total)
Just filter them to the trash.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

By using your university email, you are implicitly agreeing to getting their emails. Kind of like when Hotmail sends you stuff that you don't really care about. It's the price of free email.

Filter them to trash and move on. This isn't really something to spend time worrying about.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:29 AM on February 4, 2014

Yes, that seems like a normal amount of communication, unfortunately. You should be able to filter either by who sent the email or what list it was sent to (your school likely has mailing lists that you were automatically subscribed to, like student-l or department-l).
posted by muddgirl at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2014

Is this in line with other Universities or am I just getting upset over nothing?

You're getting upset over nothing. Most universities send this kind of email out to their students. As other have noted, just set up some filters and be done with it. Not worth wigging out over it.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:31 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Only 4-6 e-mails a day? And roughly one a week is actually something you care about? Consider yourself extremely lucky!

Like others have said, such e-mails are normal.
posted by meese at 9:40 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe bring it to the attention of your graduate student rep if you have such a thing. If they raise it at a liaison committee then someone might agree with it from the staff and ask that your admin people sort it out. Chances are some staff might be impacted also.

Don't worry about it beyond that.
posted by biffa at 9:43 AM on February 4, 2014

Your school may be different, but I know at mine you can opt out of various departments emails - just email them and ask to be unsubscribed from that list. That's part of the reason why you're receiving duplicates - they assume you aren't on the other list so they send it on. Just make that assumption true.. it won't make you care about that information any more, but at least you won't be getting half a dozen copies of it.
posted by valoius at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I used to teach beginning internet use to rural healthcare workers in the late '90s, I was amazed at how people's standards differed. One person might mention she was getting almost no e-mail at all on the account she'd set up--only ten or fifteen messages a day. Another person complained bitterly of the onslaught of ten messages a week that was driving her crazy.

Fifteen years later there are still no standards of what's normal in e-mail. It depends on how much you want, what you signed up for (or didn't), what level of relevance the messages have to you personally, and how demanding of your attention the e-mails are. You feel 4-6 e-mails per day that don't pertain to you is too much? For some people that low a number of unsolicited e-mails would be a blessed relief.

To sum up: subjective complaint; solvable problem. Filter messages from university accounts and/or e-mail lists into one folder; once a week, sit down and scan the subject headings quickly and delete.
posted by gillyflower at 9:46 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If any of the emails come from specific addresses (e.g. "universitytransportation@university.edu") and never contain information that you want to read, you can set up filters to send them straight to the trash. Otherwise, you probably can't do much about it. I've replied to emails from my university, once or twice, asking to be removed from mailing lists about topics (pre-dental, for instance) that are of no interest to me; it's never gone anywhere. Generally speaking these kinds of emails just go out to an address list containing all the students in a particular group (e.g. all graduate students, all students in a particular department, etc.) and the people in charge of sending the messages out don't have any authority (or inclination) to add or remove people from those lists on a per-individual basis.

You can try to block some of the emails if you can find a way to do so without missing out on anything relevant. You could also filter emails from university addresses that are occasionally relevant into a separate folder rather than your main inbox, so that at least you can sort through them more easily. One other (imperfect) option would be to sign up for a non-university account for personal communications and set up your university account to forward emails from a whitelist of pre-approved addresses. You would then sort through your real university account once every week or so just to make sure you hadn't missed anything.

Aside from that you'll probably just have to live with the irrelevant messages. I agree that it's mildly annoying, but it's also pretty normal practice. There's not a perfect solution; the best thing to do is probably just to relax, let go of your irritation, and resign yourself to spending thirty seconds or so each day selecting and deleting irrelevant messages.
posted by Scientist at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Boy do I sympathize. As a faculty member I get 30-50 emails a day at least that are announcements of events or official notifications of things, most from within the university. Add to that the 30-50 personal work-related emails I get on an average weekday, plus everything else, and it becomes unsustainable.

Within my own department I have tried to push event announcements, calls for papers, and other sorts of mass communication into social media (Facebook and Twitter) and away from email (to limited success).

But the university administration considers your official email the primary channel for official written notification, so a lot of things have to come at you that way (IRB proposal approvals, compliance notifications, new policies, etc.).

Plus in most cases one's university email is publicly findable, which means you will spend the rest of your life -- increasingly as you become established as some kind of expert or specialist or just because you exist -- getting a dozen cold call emails a day from people who looked you up who would never have been able to get to you 20 years ago (like in my case every Hindustani musician who ever wanted a gig in New York).

It's an onslaught and the system is broken. No one can keep up. If it helps I hear it is really not much better in the business world in most cases. It's costing everyone productivity and attention and it cannot continue like this much longer.
posted by spitbull at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My total email volume is usually 4-6 emails per day

Sounds low to me. I get more like 60+ emails a day - many directly to me, but a fair amount from campus-wide or group-specific lists.

Try unsubscribing from everything you can, and learn to use your filters for everything else you don't want to see.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:10 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not to be unhelpful, but I'm sometimes on the other end of sending these emails, and there's nothing I can or would do if you contacted me to unsubscribe. They're sent to pre-existing mass email lists, like all students, all first year students, all students in a specific program, so as an administrator of a separate program, I have no ability to add or remove people from those lists.
posted by mercredi at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

That would have horrified the university I used to work for, but that was an attitude they had there which was in large part motivated in not wanting to dissuade students from paying attention to emails. The culture at your university obviously differs. In the abstract I don't think 4-6 emails a day is an unreasonable quantity to receive from what is, essentially, your full-time employer and associated social groups. It's email. If it takes you longer than a second to decide whether to delete it or read it you're not out a notable amount of time.

I think a big differentiator here is whether you're getting all of these emails from a central source or not. Even at my mail-adverse organization I am sure there were people getting a lot of mail because they'd somehow ended up in lists via different groups. If those groups don't have an unsubscribe methodology then they're being jerky at the bare minimum, but it's hard to put all of that on the institution as a whole.

You'll likely have the best result (meaning any attention at all) if you send a short and sweet letter to the IT director and/or the communications group pointing out that so much stuff comes to you that it swamps out the important messages. I wouldn't hold out much hope of creating any change though; universities are less nimble than the Titanic when it comes to steering, particularly if you're trying to get the organization as a whole to direct the behavior of the units. You're only likely to have any impact if these messages are coming out of a central tool that someone can throttle.
posted by phearlez at 11:10 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds annoying! I set up a lot of filters on my email and it really helps me feel better about the onslaught of emails that either I can't opt out of or have to get but don't want in my inbox. Would that help you?
posted by radioamy at 2:45 PM on February 4, 2014

Yeah, this is pretty normal, and as pointed out above, I doubt there's a way people can unsubscribe you, as they are probably going to some "all students" list.

What I've had more success with is figuring out which emails are coming from the same people on roughly similar subjects and lobbying them to post a daily or weekly digest instead of six or seven separate emails. (Although it sounds like you might be getting that already if you are only getting a few emails a day - I'm getting more like thirty).

For example, instead of departmental seminar reminders being sent out for each individual seminar, with a reminder a week ahead, a day ahead, and on the day of, we moved to sending out a weekly "what's on this week" email. And then we eventually moved to putting the seminar info on a webpage, with a regular reminder to check it out included in other emails that we send out.

To persuade people to do this you'll have to read the emails you are getting and keep a log of who they come from and on what topics for a while. It might be simpler just to filter them as others suggest.

If you can forward your university mails to gmail, gmail nicely sorts all group mails into a separate "updates" tab now, that means they don't clutter up your main inbox.
posted by lollusc at 3:05 PM on February 4, 2014

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