Cheng: Listserv Reform

A way to truly move Dartmouth forward by creating a better Listserv.

by Christopher Cheng | 10/17/17 12:45am

Last week, I attended two dinner events, ordered free gear and learned about two funding opportunities on campus. Such is the power of the knowledge I received via Listserv, the software with the capability to forward emails to the entire Dartmouth campus.

We’re all blitzed hundreds of times week after week. We get advertisements about everything from club meetings to guest speakers and, most importantly, free food. Some of these opportunities are relevant while others aren’t, and many of us find ourselves in one of two situations. Either our inboxes are cluttered with irrelevant blitzes or we invest precious time into painstakingly organizing our inboxes’ contents. I’ve run into the former situation quite often, getting emailed by Smart Women Securities despite being neither smart nor a woman nor interested in securities. Jokes aside, “blitzstorms” can be a serious problem. Important and relevant emails can get buried under mountains of ones that are, at least to some readers, unimportant. Fortunately, this problem can be mitigated.

Listserv operates through a very user-friendly system in which an individual emails a certain email address registered to a list, which then forwards the email to all addresses registered in that list. Dartmouth, under its license with L-Soft Corporation, can make as many Listserv lists as it wants, and it does so under management of the College’s Information Technology Services. In other words, we have all the technical tools we need to reform Listserv management on campus.

Let’s talk logistics. How can we optimize the amount of relevant blitzes each student gets? The answer lies in doing so through a combination of manipulation of existing information and student input and consent. Dartmouth already collects a vast array of demographical information: Gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, class year and other key identifiers are all known by the College for each of its students. There could be special Listserv lists made for those demographics so that, for instance, men do not get blitzed about opportunities to attend a rush party for a sorority. This arrangement would also make me much less envious of the research opportunities available through the Women in Science Project. Furthermore, through the use of surveys, students can choose to join certain categorical Listserv lists: Finance organizations, social justice clubs, health care teams and interest groups could all be joined upon request by Dartmouth students. By necessity, this would be an entirely opt-in program. The default Listserv system would be the current one, in which every student gets emailed senseless, unless they chose otherwise.

For those blitzing through Listserv, there would be regulations in place to prevent inappropriate outreach. If the Dandelion Project blitzes the finance Listserv list, for example, ITS could step in, possibly with the help of new student interns. There could also be caps set on the number of categorical lists that each organization could email which already exist for Council on Student Organizations-recognized groups. Creativity isn’t off-limits in this system, either: There could be a special “free food” list set up for events looking to boost their attendance numbers. I’d put my name down for that.

With this sort of initiative, who takes responsibility? One organization that comes to mind is COSO, given that the Listserv is a major means of recruitment and logistical coordination for the organizations it governs. Alternatively, ITS could spearhead the initiative, simply by coordinating with the Undergraduate Dean’s Office for demographic information, creating the Listserv lists and sending out information to groups and students. A particularly industrious student could take advantage of College President Phil Hanlon’s open office hours to suggest it to the man himself.

Conceptually, Listserv reform is not difficult. It might not even be so in execution, since such a measure would negatively affect very few groups. The reform procedure would also be a prime time to educate students on how to remove themselves from Listserv lists, helping to avoid situations where recent alumni accidentally email the entire College rather than removing themselves from the Listserv.