Cap and E-Mail

Dylan DelliSanti ‘14

Last year, Opinion Editor Alex Cartwright wrote an article explaining that the overuse of mass emails was a result of a “tragedy of the commons” situation. Since there were no clearly defined rules of the game – and no costs to people who sent out too many mass emails — the system was predictably overused. An unfortunate side effect was that students tended to ignore mass emails since they arrived in such great numbers — often with redundant or superfluous information.

In response, the school implemented a system in which any professor or faculty member wishing to send out a mass email had to go through an intermediary. The system has been successful in defining rules of the game: less mass emails are sent out and students are no longer burdened with a bulk of unnecessary information. However, professors sometimes face problems in sending out mass emails. For instance, a professor who has to move an event at the last minute may not have time to inform the intermediary to send out a mass email informing the students of the change. Furthermore, the system may not go far enough in indicating to students the relative importance of a mass email.

Instead of having an intermediary, I propose a system of “cap-and-email,” mirroring the cap-and-trade systems used in many environmental problems. Every professor and faculty member could be granted an allowance of mass email credits to use throughout the semester. This way, professors are still limited in the number of mass emails they can send, but if an emergency arises, they will no longer have to use an intermediary to have their email sent. Moreover, professors who do not use their credits can give or exchange them to colleagues who might need them.

This system allows for both our professors to have more freedom in sending mass emails while also limiting the number of superfluous emails that can be sent out. By limiting the number of emails a professor can send, he or she will only send out those she finds to be the most important since sending out one that is unnecessary could cost her in the future. This would also lead students to read more mass emails since they would recognize that the professor spent a mass email credit, indicating that the email must have some importance; on the other hand, having an inbox full of emails with an intermediary’s name in the “From” column might make those emails seem less important.

It was wise of the administration to reform the mass email system after student email accounts were being clogged up with junk mail after junk mail. Many students were angry about the burden and important information was not being received. However, the system could be improved further by implementing a “cap-and-email” program. The cap could be simply devised by looking at past mass email records, finding the average, and dividing that average by the number of professors and faculty members. This system would allow professors and faculty members to avoid the potentially time-consuming process of going through an intermediary while also limiting the number of emails sent around campus and thus increasing the relative of each mass email sent.


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