February 21, 2006
To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It's All About Me
Posted by Victor Fleischer

My favorite NYT reporter, Jonathan Glater, has a great article about student emails.  I've received some doozies, and I'd guess as many as one in five qualifies as unprofessional in style or content. 

Still, I'm awfully glad that students feel free to email me.  In my Deals class, rather than talk about judicial opinions, I teach them how to analyze transactions in terms of information problems and behavior problems, and we discuss a range of contractual solutions.  Lately, I've received a number of emails from current and past Deals students passing along newspaper articles that they think will interest me.  Nine times out of ten I've already read the story.  But the emails show that not only do they understand what the course is about, they find it interesting enough to think about outside of class.  And it means they will likely still remember some of it when they are in practice.  I care about that much more than I care whether they remember how to price a call option.  Forwarding a newspaper story isn't the sort of interaction likely to occur in person.  Some profs probably find it annoying.  But those emails make me that much more excited to get in the classroom, which in turn surely improves their experience.  So I say: long live student-prof email.

Snarky, unprofessional blog commentators:  Now that's something I could live without.

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Comments (5)

1. Posted by law student on February 21, 2006 @ 23:37 | Permalink

Thanks for the support!

2. Posted by Joshua Wright on February 21, 2006 @ 23:54 | Permalink

Long live student-prof email, indeed! In fact, Vic, I have set up my email account to forward my student emails to you.

I hope you dont mind :)

3. Posted by Anonymous on February 25, 2006 @ 21:05 | Permalink

It sounds like you're a law school professor. On the subject of student-professor interaction, I think its hard for most students to get past the brown-nosing thing when approaching a professor. Many times, students could not care less about their grades, but are nonetheless genuinely interested in something the professor has brought up in class. Sadly, most law professors (at least at my school) could honestly not care less when a student approaches the podium or emails an article. Many profs are too focused on their own research, well aware that the supply will always exceed demand in the economics of law school admissions, so why take an interest? And then there are those precious few professors who encourage interested students, and see them more as people than students. Those are the great professors - the ones who appreciate that many students had careers before law school, and are as deserving of professional respect as the teachers who teach them.

4. Posted by Anonymous on February 25, 2006 @ 21:16 | Permalink

From the article you linked:

"It's a real fine balance to accommodate what they need and at the same time maintain a level of legitimacy as an instructor and someone who is institutionally authorized to make demands on them, and not the other way round."

That's an absolutely ridiculous statement. Since when are students not permitted to make demands on their professors? This type of statement is endemic of a substantial problem in higher education pedagogy. I would remind all professors (especially at private universities/graduate schools) that their students are paying their salaries. Can you imagine how clients in a law practice would react to this statement if made by attorney to client? ā€œIā€™m sorry, you are not permitted to make demands on me.ā€ The nature of the service relationship between student-teacher and lawyer-client is largely indistinguishable. Something must change in the ivory tower.

5. Posted by anonymous on April 20, 2006 @ 13:17 | Permalink

I was given a photocopy of the Times article by a superior, and the most shocking thing for me appeared at the end:
"'One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back [to say thank you],' [assistant professor of English at Pomona Meg] Worley said."
What the world needs now, more wasted bandwidth that's taken up only to put college students in their place.
I don't have time to read thank you notes, I'd rather just have the homework that much faster.

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