Utah Professors Don’t Mind Communicating Via E-mail


    By Adam Denison

    Utah professors, in general, say they are more than willing to respond to their students” electronic cries for help.

    The New York Times published a story Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, about frustrations college professors nationwide are having with a barrage of frivolous e-mails from students. Many Utah professors, however, said they don”t share those feelings.

    “I don”t mind responding to e-mails,” said Larry St. Clair, department chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at BYU.

    St. Clair said e-mail communication is convenient not only for him, but for the students as well.

    He said he receives somewhere between 15 to 20 e-mails from students a week, and he makes sure he responds to all of them. He said approximately 50 percent of the e-mails he receives are valid, but the other half are from students who failed to do the assigned reading and have questions they could have resolved by themselves.

    St. Clair said he not only receives e-mails from current students but former students too. Monday he received an e-mail from one of his former students, now in law school at UCLA, who had a question about genetics. St. Clair said e-mail is what allowed him to continue to help a student that has already moved on.

    Jen Wahlquist, department chair of the English and Literature Department at Utah Valley State College said there are some real advantages to using e-mail to communicate with students. Wahlquist, like St. Clair, said she responds to every e-mail she receives.

    She said many students e-mail her to let her know if they will be out of class and to get the material to be covered, but sometimes she also gets complaints from students.

    “Sometimes it seems like I get complaints that aren”t very serious,” she said.

    Wahlquist pointed out that although they may complain, students sometimes need a chance to voice their frustrations and e-mail provides them with a way to do so.

    Jim Fisher, a professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Utah, said he uses e-mail all the time to communicate with his students. He, too, said he responds to every e-mail he receives from students, even those in which students give excuses for missing or being late to class.

    “I think that some students feel that once they”ve e-mailed, their request has been granted,” he said. This is not always the case, especially with some of the less conventional excuses he gets from students.

    He said he thinks many of his students are surprised to get a reply from him.

    Fisher will also make his answers to students” questions public if many of the students have the same questions.

    “What a wonderful tool to clear up class-wide confusion,” he said.

    Tyler Jarvis, a professor in the Mathematics Department at BYU, said he prefers in-person communication to e-mail, but if the choice is between e-mail or nothing at all then he prefers e-mail. He said he prefers in-person communication because it helps him to better read his students and help them feel comfortable asking all their questions.

    Jarvis said the requests he receives in e-mail aren”t any stranger than those he gets in person.

    “There are always students who come with silly questions or requests,” he said.

    Dee Oyler, the department chair in the Department of Chemistry at UVSC, is also in favor of e-mail communication.

    “Usually the e-mail I get is of a pretty good nature,” he said.

    Oyler usually receives a relatively small volume of e-mails from students on a weekly basis, but he said e-mail tends to be the preferred method of communication his students use with him.

    Not all professors, however, have elected to stay on the e-mail bandwagon. Lee Braithwaite, a biology professor at BYU, used to use e-mail but said he now prefers that his students use other ways to communicate with him.

    “There”s a lot of junk that comes in e-mail,” he said.

    He said a simple phone call would save him and the students some time, because they could answer all their questions at once instead of going through a number of different e-mails.

    (For comments, e-mail Adam Denison at )

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