The high drama that resulted today began with the following email, which I am publishing verbatim sans the student's (not the referenced professor's) name, to protect their identities:
I know your new class Movie Star is full, but I need to be in that class. I heard there are other people trying to blue card in the class too. You can just tell me to talk to the registar because let me guess "There's a fire code" blah blah blah... but you can't let them do that. I am always getting shut out of classes I want to take. You should fight for more people to get into this class. Don't you want people in your class you enjoy being there? There are always people who dont show up for classes and dont go to the screenings. If you knew me better you would want me in your class. Ask Professor [M]. He gave me a 100 in participation... I know you're impressed, not. But you have to let me in this class. I really watch all the films and participate in class. I am super fun and [M] can back that up.
Thank you for reading my rambling.
My reaction to this was one of bafflement. Not at the request to let someone into my class: this happens every semester in the upper-level film classes and, while I like to tell my ego it's because I'm so super-cool, I know it's because we have a number of Cinema Studies minors who need to take my courses in order to graduate. This semester, the beginning number was set exceptionally low in order to control the number of students in the course. I was surprised, in fact, that my course had clsoed with 18 students, until I found this out. Many students had already emailed me asking (begging!) to be let it. After discussing the situation with several people, I happily decided to let seven people into the class, bringing the total up to 25 with no more. (I can't really go under that amount and expect people to be happy; I also would prefer not to go over that amount to make my own life easier, plus it's a good size group for this kind of class.
No, the key here is that I don't know this person. At all. I had heard her name from a student who five minutes before had dropped by my office for help from a paper, but I did not know her. If I had been familiar with this person, it might have been different. If someone like, say, former student Rusty had written this to me, I would have probably laughed before sending back a curt reply -- but that's because he's a lush from Cape Cod who used to sell me fish. (Doesn't that sound like there should be some kind of double entendre? And there isn't!)
(Tangent: I was shooting the breeze with recent alum C and current student M in my office hours on Monday, trading drunken idiot stories. M said, "Well, when I was a freshman, this drunk guy came into my room, got undressed and though I was his girlfriend, and I kept saying, 'No, no, Russell, you're in the wrong room!'" And C and I said at the same time, "Which Russell are you talking about?!" and then laughed because we knew we were both referring to good old Rusty. Alas, this was not who M was referring to, so I can still safely pretend that Rusty is a wholesome boy -- at least I could do this if I didn't keep reading his blog regularly. But I digress.)
I find this kind of email completely inappropriate on many levels, bordering on rude. Most students thankfully don't send email like this -- and if they do, they know me and (hopefully) know how to hit the return key to write more than a single block paragraph. To a stranger, however, such flippant tone turns into brazen and unearned arrogance. The same problem often occurs with sarcasm in email, which can become dangrous offensive. I showed her email to a few other professors in the department, who all agreed that this was really uncalled for.
Here is my reply:
Let me start with a reprimand: you should really be careful about the note of your email messages for people that you don't know. Yes, [A] just stopped in and told me you were interested in the class; the cavalier and, quite frankly, unusually aggresive tone of your email may not be intentional, but that is the way it comes across. It does not work for me and actually strengthens my reserve to keep my policy the way it is.
It is true that the class is now full and I am no longer issuing bluecards. The reason for the current cap has nothing to do with firecodes and everything to do with the quality of the class. This will be a work-intensive class with a lot of class interaction and the larger the class is, the more diffuse the energy will be. 25 students is the maximum that I believe the course will work at and that is what I am sticking with for now. Had you emailed me yesterday, you would have been guaranteed a spot. Seven people got ahead of you, however, and so now you will have to wait.
You are currently #2 on the waiting list -- someone else just emailed me right before you -- and I will let you know if someone drops the class for you to swoop in and grab their spot. If you see a space open, grab it without telling me and you're in. Stay vigilant and hopeful and you will probably be rewarded.
And next time, read over your rambling and consider how a stranger might react to your email. I'm sure you're a wonderful student, which makes it a shame that we have started off this way.
Assuming that current student A had called X the minute after she left my class, I also brought a copy to today's screening and said, "You might want to tell your friend to phrase her email a little more appropriately." A said that in fact she had not said anything to X. I thought this would be a good lesson.
Silly me to think that this was over.
When I walked out of my office, packed up and ready to head home for bathing duty, I found outside my door a crumbled, weeping woman with another professor from my department in front of my door. I assumed this woman was in the other professor's class or something, or that she was being kind at what I assumed was the result of a break-up or something.
"Are you OK?" I asked them both.
Weeping woman could not speak, she was hyperventilating. My colleague looked at me, somewhat dumbfounded.
"Are you waiting for me?" I asked, thinking that I really needed to go home.
"I think she is," said the professor.
"But I don't know who she is, she's not one of my-"
Sure enough, this was the person who had emailed me earlier, having now received my email and a phone call from her friend A, who said I was clearly pissed. (I was.)
Not one to leave a weeping student that I am the cause of in the hallway, I invited her into my office, where she eventually calmed down and, hopefully, finally udnerstood that email should not be so quickly or thoughtlessly sent.
I'm curious to know if you think I was completely out of line here. I really don't think I was, but I'm open to criticism.
Oh yes, the final question: did I bluecard her into the class? No. As stated in my email, I am full and she is now #2 on my waiting list. Tears did not change that.
Here endeth today's netiquette lesson.