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OIT Policy: Email Distribution Lists

Introduction

In recent months there has been growing interest in and demand for the use of email as a mechanism for distributing announcements, information, notices, etc. to a wide campus audience. There is little doubt that the number of requests for access to large email distributions will continue to grow. The purpose of this document is to outline and define a consistent campus response to such requests.

There are at least three reasons for establishing policies/procedures for email distribution lists. One is simply the impact of such mail on the campus email systems. While it is not inappropriate to use those systems for wide distribution of information, excessive or casual use of distribution lists can be a burden on those systems, either interfering with the timely distribution of non-list email or requiring investment in larger, faster systems. It is the product of three factors, the size of the distribution list, the size of the message posted to the list, and the frequency of use of the list that determines the load on the systems; to set the scale, in May these systems handled approximately five million email messages with a total content of nearly 100 Gbytes. A second reason for establishing policies/procedures comes from the point of view of the recipient. Simply put, we are receiving complaints from a growing number of members of the campus community about the volume of unsolicited "junk" mail that is being delivered to them. Finally, without common policies/procedures there is a growing danger of inconsistent decisions regarding the use of distribution lists, thereby creating "precedents" that can only lead to growing confusion and misunderstanding about use of the lists.

For clarity of discussion, it is useful to define two classes of email distribution lists, the "official all-campus" lists and "user-owned" lists. While the policies/procedures below specifically address use of distribution lists maintained on the central campus mail servers, they should also be viewed as guidelines for privately maintained lists as well.

Official All-Campus Lists

We currently have lists for "all faculty", "all staff", and "all students"; the last can be divided into "all graduate students" and "all undergraduates" and the latter is further divided into "all first-year students", "all sophomores", "all juniors", "all seniors", and "all others". In addition, there is an email version of the "Deans, Directors, Department Head" list. These lists are "official" in that they are derived directly from the Human Resources and Student Administration databases; all such addresses are included, there is no "opt-out" mechanism. Additional ways to "parse" these lists may be possible depending on the level of detail of information contained in the HR and SA databases. These lists are intended for broad distribution of timely "official" University announcements and information.

Proposed Policy/Procedure:

Each Vice Chancellor may designate staff members (hopefully limited to a few) who have access to the official all-campus lists. Such designations shall be sent in writing to the campus postmaster (currently David Powicki in OIT's Network Systems and Services group). The designated staff members are also empowered to approve requests to use these lists. Decisions to use should be made consistent with the following guidelines:

  • Use and approval of others to use should be limited to the business of the Vice Chancellery.
  • "Timeliness" of the message should be considered; is it "urgent" or can it be distributed by other means (such as Campus Chronicle, Web, Collegian)?
  • The message should be of broad interest to the targeted audience. The system should not be used to troll for the few "needles in the haystack" who might be interested.
  • All messages must carry a definite and appropriate "from" address as well as an appropriate "reply to" address (if different). [In special circumstances "from" addresses can be manually overwritten by OIT if necessary.]
  • It should be recognized that at this time not every faculty member, staff member, and student has an email address. Hence the all-campus lists should not be used as the sole mechanism for distribution if every member of the particular group must be contacted.
  • Messages should be text only not, e.g., HTML. Email attachments should not be included; these are generally large and it is likely that a number of the recipients will not be able to open them.
  • Brevity should be emphasized.

User-owned Lists

These are lists established by an individual to address a smaller segment of the campus community. They may be "official" if established for use by a particular administrative or academic organizational unit or "unofficial" if established by a group not directly under the establisher's leadership.

Proposed Common Policy/Procedure for User-owned Lists:

  • Owner of the list must be a member of the list and is responsible for maintaining appropriate use.
  • Email attachments are discouraged due to size and should only be used if the owner is certain all recipients can open the attachment.
  • Brevity is, as always, encouraged.

a. Official User-owned Lists:

These are focused at a smaller segment of the community defined for a common organizational unit. They are intended for "official business" and may be (though need not be) derived from the Human Resources and Student Administration databases.

Proposed Policy/Procedure:

  • Any campus faculty or staff can originate such a list for his/her administrative use. Membership on the list must be limited to those members of the campus community who have a "reporting" relationship with the owner (e.g., the Head of the Physics Department may have lists of departmental faculty, staff, majors, etc.).
  • The owner can designate additional staff who have pre-approved access to the list.

b. Official User-owned "Affinity" Lists:

These are intended for a smaller segment of the community that have some common interest in an area of administrative activity (e.g., all faculty, staff, students using the pro-card). It is likely that such lists will be compiled by hand, by some electronic method, or from some database other than downloads from the Human Resources and/or Student Administration databases.

Proposed Policy/Procedure:

  • Any campus faculty of staff can originate such a list for his/her administrative use.
  • The list must have an "opt-out" option; i.e., there must be a simple mechanism for recipients to request that they be omitted from the list.
  • For large lists, taken here to mean lists with more than two thousand addresses, activity should be limited to once per day. More frequent activity will be "digested" by the campus email system into an amalgamated message which will be sent out at the end of the day.

c. Official User-owned "Discussion" Lists:

These are intended for a smaller segment of the community that have some common interest. They differ from "affinity" lists in that "discussion" lists are available for anyone to use, e.g., to post messages to an ongoing discussion of some topic or theme. They are designated "official" in that they must be used only for administrative/academic activities.

Proposed Policy/Procedure:

  • Must be established, owned, and moderated by a faculty or staff member for use in his/her official capacity (e.g., a course or a committee).
  • For large lists, taken here to mean lists with more than five hundred addresses, activity should be limited to once per day. More frequent activity will be digested by the campus email system and delivered once each day.

d. Unofficial User-owned Lists:

These span a wide range of uses. In general they will be established to support campus activities that are not driven through administrative or academic channels (e.g., the Ski Club, a group of individuals interested in the use of a particular software package, etc.).

Proposed Policy/Procedure:

  • May be established by faculty, staff, and students (with RSO sponsorship). Owner must take responsibility for maintaining the list and monitoring for proper use.
  • Must have an easily executed opt-out option.
  • For large lists, taken here to mean lists with more than five hundred addresses, activity will be digested to once-a-day postings.

 

Last Updated: Jul. 29, 2011