… get so annoyed with the facile and offensive nature of something in your email in-box that you hit Reply, slam out a response, and hit Send.  Then you think a bit.

Another in an ever-increasing stream of hectoring emails from some VP or other arrived in my inbox today. It was banging on about some missing annual return from the 2008/09 academic year without which the world was likely, it seems, to stop spinning. 

Academics are obviously too thick to appreciate the absolute necessity to …demonstrate compliance with the policy and the procedures outlined therein.  So the email went on at some length about failure to complete… deemed to indicate … should information to the contrary emerge… viewed most seriously… and so on.  You get the drift, I’m sure.

But bad as it was,  it wasn’t this that really pushed the button. No. It was the public listing of all  members of university staff who had shamefully defaulted on this essential act of probity and not returned the essential form.  There we were @ after @ in the ‘To’  list:  225 in all.  On The N@ughty Step, so to speak.

I was both a little angry and a bit surprised that anyone could be so casual about publishing this kind of information. So I replied. To all.

This seems to cause a bit of a flap campus-wide because my inbox buzzed for much of the afternoon with observations and comments from others on the ‘Wall of Shame’. Some were simply wondering what it was all about, others  were just angry about  the endless sand-storms of administration.  One respondent put the whole thing in a wonderfully elegant way; it was all about meeting the ordeals (of the greatest triviality) devised by the VP’s office concerned.

For some reason I kept thinking of grey philistines and also of a conversation earlier today here. They connect  – somewhere around the notion of direction, autonomy, and respect. Or lack of it.  

Only one  response – from an economist colleague – was in any way hostile to either my own contribution to the rather unintended thread or to those who kept the conversation going using Reply All. The message was pretty direct: I don’t care what you think. Using Reply All like this was, in a very clearly stated view, an abuse of email facilities.

Perhaps. But I can’t help thinking that sending an open-list email isn’t all that far behind in the abuse stakes.  It also shows a pretty spectacular lack of timing to drop a fox like this in the hen-house when so many are struggling to meet marking and grading deadlines right across the university.  But then VPs and straight-talking economists probably don’t have to think too much about that sort of thing.  🙂