At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.
He quotes professors at big universities -- Syracuse, William and Mary, Georgetown, UC Davis, MIT -- who are distressed that students turn to them for information, directions, and advice. The Times, not surprisingly, found a way to make this a story about fear – the fear that professors have of offending the students who will be evaluating them.
I am glad to report that the professors quoted in the story who are from small teaching colleges saw these informal email communications as a teaching opportunity. An Amherst professor saw it as feedback about blind spots in his course, while a Pomona teacher took it as a chance to teach etiquette and power relations in communication.
What this story says to me is that this generation of students relate to their professors in the same close and informal way that they relate to their parents. Many people have noted that the current Millennial generation of young people have close relations with their parents – much closer than was the norm for the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who are now their professors. Students today do write emails at all hours asking and telling things that the "never trust anyone over 30" generation would not have dreamed of sending to their teachers. I do not think that this means students today are pushy consumers.
Students today are trusting children. We teachers should honor, serve, and teach to that trust.