Email Part Deux-Or Revisiting the Prior Post

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

Sometimes you write a post thinking it is no big deal, just a reference to something, and all of a sudden gets more interest than you would think. So it went with the prior post about Boston College no longer offering campus email accounts to students.
In my mind I thought this was a no-brainer. So much a no-brainer I really didn’t spend much time explaining why I thought it was a good idea. Well commenters, and emailers, disagreed so I thought I would explain a bit more.

Campuses got in the business of offering email prior to hotmail and gmail, when many students arrived at campus without having an email account. In fact my first email account in 1993 was a uchicago account. Given that moment in the development of the internet it only made sense for campuses, regardless of infrastructure cost to offer accounts to all of their students. The only way that they could be assured that students had email accounts was to provide them. This in turn produced a low cost way for campuses to communicate with their student body. And for the most part students used these accounts as their primary accounts. Indeed I recall when students used to scramble to figure out how to keep their email accounts after leaving college, because it was their primary or only account.

Fast forward to now, most, in not all of our students come to campus with an existing email account, one which they have used for several years already, one attached to their “online identity” (okay I really don’t believe in the idea of online vs. offline identity, hence the scare quotes, but you get my point). So having a campus email address is now a burden, one more piece of information for them to monitor, which they generally only begrudgingly do, because the only communication they get via this account if official campus stuff. (In fact the younger generations don’t use email nearly as much, instead relying on text messaging, but I digress.)

Allowing students to register their accounts they use as their official accounts greatly increases the chance of reaching them, and doesn’t create a “garbage account” that they will only be so happy to get rid of when they leave the institution.

But what about the students that don’t already have an account?

Good question, but wouldn’t it be better to teach those students how to get a free account, one they can continue to use later in life after they have left the institution. I for one believe in empowering students.

What about just having an official account which they can forward?

Fine by me. But why bother? If you are just going to create an account which they then forward to another account why bother with the time an effort of managing such a system. Instead, free up the server space, save money, and have the IT folks teach people digital literacy skills. Perhaps each address would be just a forward service that students are required to point somewhere else. This would work, but seems like an extra step. Just require students to register an email account, like any online registration does, done.

What about Privacy?

This is a red-herring. There is no privacy and the university supplying “safe” email accounts just teaches students bad habits. Instead teach them how to maximize security on their own. Honestly I have more problems with the official institutional email addresses I am forced to have then I ever do with the ones I manage myself.

But having a .edu address is useful.

Only because other people/institutions treat .edu with a special import, one which is probably starting to fade. At any rate said institutions would deal when suddenly large numbers of students don’t have .edu addresses.

But as Faculty I like my account.

Faculty seems a bit more reasonable to me, the relationship is longer term and as a representative of said institution you might want to officially sign your email as relating to the university. I personally find it a pain, but it seems a reasonable investment for a school to provide official addresses for employees. But please for the love of all that is holy, let me forward it out of that account.

But student emails might get stuck in spam filters.

Again an important intelligence for students to learn,: how to craft an email that will not, and which free services are best. Again my own spam filters do a much better job of accurately filtering than do the ones the university sets up.

It’s a liability issue, institutions have to have official channels they can be sure students receive.

Again you are far more likely to reach the student on the email account they do read rather than the one you want them to read. If you want a guarantee send a courier and have them sign for it, otherwise no guarantee, campus email or not. This is again where providing students email produces a false sense of security.

What about security?

You really think students read those security updates? Besides they are far more likely to read them if they go to the account they check regularly rather than the one they only check occasionally. Important principle of communication: If you want someone to hear you state it on a channel they usually listen to. Wouldn’t hurt to make them interesting/fun to read. I have seen a few like this, and students are far more likely to read if they aren’t official campus speak. And for real emergencies email is not fast enough try text messaging.

But I like my harvard.edu address.

Seriously? Okay if you want to carry your college address around with you like that 20 year old college sweatshirt trying to brag and relive the glory days of your college years, trading on the prestige of an institution rather than your own reputation feel free, but Universities should just start charging for this. Consider it premium service.

Are institutions going to start providing all students with a cell phone and number since they text each other to communicate? Obviously not. Managing student email accounts is just spending bad money.