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November 27, 2006

Of the many possible pitfalls of institutional research, who would have suspected that a simple e-mail survey could almost start a spam war? But that’s what happened last week, when Brown University officials sent out an e-mail message asking Wesleyan University students to go to a Web page and fill out a survey on academic advising.

The e-mail stirred up Isaac Levy, a sophomore, who was not happy that spam from Brown administrators was filtering over onto his campus’s listserv for students . A contributor at Wesleying (a blog run by “real students” at Wesleyan), posted these comments by Levy:

“I am extremely pissed at how much Wesleyan spams students. Brown University has started us sending us solicitations for surveys. I don't care if the survey is for a good cause -- I don't want the e-mails.”

Levy complained that he had already asked to be taken off the list, but got a second e-mail anyway. His response to the second e-mail? Levy posted a 4MB image of Connecticut’s laws on unsolicited e-mails on his homepage and encouraged students to e-mail the file to Robert Shaw, Brown’s executive associate dean . Shaw’s name and e-mail address had appeared on the survey emailed to Wesleyan students.

“Copy and paste it for all I care,” Levy advised students. “Or send a blank e-mail w/ a large attachment. Just make sure he gets lots of large files.”

Contacted at his office the day before Thanksgiving, Shaw said that the survey was part of a large study being conducted at multiple universities on open curriculum and how it works. The e-mail was apparently sent out by Wesleyan, not Brown, but Shaw's name and contact information were listed.

“I got three e-mails from students complaining,” he said of students at Wesleyan. Shaw added that the campaign to try and spam Brown apparently did not take off “or our spam filter is catching it.”

He added that the study is in its second year and “is going quite well.”

 

 

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