A few days ago I got a rather spammy message from the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. The contents were harmless enough; just another message from Zvi Galil asking everyone to fill out instructor evaluations for the last academic term. In full, it read:
Hello Non CS majors, I ask you to fill out the CIOS course evaluations, especially for courses you take from CoC professors. If you do all such courses, which might mean one course in some cases, you will participate in a drawing and might win an Apple 16GB iPod nano. We hope to improve our 69.5% participation record. The goal for this term is 75%. We do need your input to help us improve our teaching and in some cases to recognize great teachers. You will now get my spamming reminders and terrible jokes. My apologies. Zvi Galil Dean CoC
I had already received far too many emails like this (from several different campus departments) over the past few weeks, so I sent what was intended to be a polite, but firm, request to be removed from the list (since there was no ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom). The following email correspondance then took place:
Please remove me from this list. I do not appreciate getting all these reminder emails. Best, Sam
You can remove yourself from the list by dropping out of all CoC courses Sent from my iPhone
Galil: [sic] I would still like to take courses with the CoC, I just don't wish to receive all the spammy messages they send out. I've been informed there is a way to have yourself removed from the list while still being enrolled in courses, however, I was unable to find any information online, so I went straight to the source. If you could remove me I would appreciate it. Best, Sam
I thought that was it. While I thought that it was silly to suggest that I drop out of all CoC courses a week before finals, I didn’t see any cause for concern, and assumed that I would be removed from the list shortly. A few days later, an email was sent out to the entire College of Computing, all non-CS undergrads enrolled in CS courses, all CS faculty, and all CS PHD students. It read (in part):
… PS. One of the non-majors sent me hate mail (twice) insisting on getting off the mailing list. I explained to him that the only way for him was to drop out of our classes… I actually got few nice emails from CoC students. Maybe because they know their terrible vengeful dean.
and, in the interest of full disclosure, I sent the following response (after someone else showed me how to remove myself from the mailing list):
Zvi: I'm extremely disappointed that you would choose to tell the entire CoC that a student (presumably me) was sending you hate mail. If you were referring to the two messages I sent you, I'm sorry that you seem to have taken them as a personal insult. I tried to keep them polite, and simply explain wehre I was coming from, they certainly weren't hate mail. A friend told me about `lists.gatech.edu' today, from which I was able to unsubscribe from the list. Instead of acting unprofessionally and sending out a message to the entire CoC discussing the emails I sent you (even if it was just an afterthought), you could have simply told me that you couldn't facilitate the removal and that I would have to do it manually. All the best, Sam
While Zvi seems like a nice enough man, I am concerned that he would send out a threat (even a joke one) on a widely distributed mailing list. This is unprofessional behavior that is not acceptable from someone in Zvi’s position.
What are your thoughts? Harmless joke, or terrible public relations?
Update (1707 EST): A few moments ago I received the following reply from Zvi:
Hi Sam, Thank you for your messages. They were not even close to being “hate mail”… No offense. I was only kidding about dropping out from the courses. Sooner or later people will understand my strange sense of humor. As you found out, people can easily opt out and some did. FYI the ratio of people cheering my messages (saying they love them) and “hate mailers” is 4 to 1. And my spam has been working: there was a bump in the participation after each time I sent an email. CIOS is very important to the College. This is the only time where I err on the side of more. There is a proposal on the table to have it mandatory. At Yale students have to do it in order to take the final. We will collectively decide in the College in what way we will do it. The current way will also be an option. Thanks again Zvi
Update 2 (1725 EST): the lovely Jessie Newman dropped me the following line over on Google+:
+Sam Whited Already commented on your blog but that was EXACTLY the email I received minus the line "Your suggestion will be considered as well. Thanks again"
This coming after she sent an email requesting that changes be made to the list to help people receive only content that they find valuable, and stating that she definitely wasn’t sending “hate mail.”