Faculty Members Overwhelmed By Influx of E-mails

After a long day of back-to-back meetings, Associate Head of School Rebecca Sykes opened her email inbox to find 40 new messages, each one screaming for her attention. Head Athletic Trainer Brian Cox says that he spends two to three hours each day sending, receiving and sorting through his email. He said that email is a great way to communicate quickly because it avoids “phone tag,” where callers keep leaving voicemails for each other but never actually get into contact until a few days later. However, Cox said that the downside is his increase in workload and time spent on email. “A lot of people use email as a nice, quick, easy way for someone to fire off a thought, but that person is just creating more work for the recipient,” he said. Cox also said that society has taken advantage of this easy method of communication. Because email is so efficient, people send messages through email that they otherwise would not send through telephone or post. John Gould, Instructor in English, receives about 20 emails a day, including junk mail and spam. He tries to check his email at least three times a day, and he empties his inbox every day to avoid build-up. Some faculty members facing similar predicaments raised the issue of email overload at a recent Advisory Committee (AdCom) meeting. Some faculty told AdCom that they were frustrated about the heavy volume of emails they receive every day. AdCom, a committee of six elected faculty members, is set up to serve as a link between faculty and the administration. Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty, and Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, sit in as ex-officio members. These meetings discuss concerns brought up by the administration or faculty and direct problems to other committees on campus if needed. In the AdCom meeting about this issue, discussion focused on the volume of email received by the faculty. According to Fernando Alonso, a member of AdCom, the discussion was centered on many questions, including whether or not it was reasonable to receive 100 emails per day. Faculty members also wondered what number constitutes an unreasonable amount and what will happen if the numbers of emails continue to balloon. Some also wondered what the boom in email communication means for more traditional methods of communication, and whether trading email for face-to-face contact and voicemails was a worthwhile trade-off. Sykes said that Andover has no explicit expectations for faculty to check their email. However, faculty ideally should strive to respond in a reasonable time, usually 24 hours after receiving the message, Sykes said. Because of the heavy volume of emails, AdCom also discussed the possibility of expanding the expected timeframe given for teachers to respond. Although AdCom ultimately didn’t reach a conclusion regarding the email issue, “the general consensus is that email is an integral part of [the] community,” said Instructor in Mathematics Jacques Hugon, a member of AdCom. AdCom has also forwarded the issue to the Academic Committee on Technology (ACT), which is chaired by Instructor in English Catherine Tousignant. Hugon said, “[This matter] is just something to think about; there are no recommendations on what we can do about it. We recognize and acknowledge the issue, but there is not much else to be done.” Most teachers, like Math Department Chair Suzanne Buckwalter, who receives 20 to 50 emails each day, just accept the fact that their inboxes will always be stuffed. “There’s nothing to be done– it is part of the job of being department chair,” she said. Cox said that there is not necessarily a solution to this issue. “All of our workloads have increased because of technology; it’s just the way it is,” he said. Sykes explained that the issue at hand is only a “matter of shifting our expectations, adjusting to new technology and getting used to a new tool: email.” She continued, “Technology is generally something that requires time from us. We are using email in a way people used to use the telephone or letters; it is merely replacing one form of communication with another.”