Life’s a ListServe and then you die

Jeremia Schrock
Feb. 15, 2011

On Feb. 2, John White, an employee of Doyon Security Services emailed Jennifer Ward, the VA Coordinator for Financial Aid. White had a question regarding his taxes; a perfectly innocuous thing considering springtime is also tax time. The only difference was instead of emailing just Ward he sent his out email over the entire ASUAF ListServe.

What exactly is the ListServe? The ListServe is the primary means of communication between ASUAF and the student body. You send an email out over the ListServe and everyone on it gets the message. Everyone.

Within hours half-a-dozen members of the ListServe responded to White’s email, arguing that the message now inhabiting their inboxes had no place being sent out over the server. A common complaint about the email was that ASUAF was abusing it’s own server. One woman wrote that receiving such emails made her think poorly about ASUAF, who added that she was sure others felt the same. Ultimately, members of both the senate and the executive branch of ASUAF responded to the emails in an attempt to curb the exchange.

While I’m sure others do take issue with ASUAF for one reason or another, the email that started the subsequent chain reaction of explosive bile and disgust was not sent out by a member of ASUAF. A government contractor with a legitimate question accidentally mass emailed his tax question to the members of the ListServe. As it stands, such an exchange is not the fault of ASUAF.

“It was just an error and that happens,” said Sabra Phillips, ASUAF’s Executive Officer. Phillips has been moderating the ListServe for the better part of the past decade and feels that the negative sentiment behind the recent email exchange is misplaced. ASUAF Vice President Mari Freitag agrees.

“The whole situation has been blown out of proportion,” said Freitag, adding that mass emails like the recent one occur once or twice a year. For Freitag, these exchanges are not necessarily abuses and are not “as big a deal as people are making it out to be.” What’s important for Freitag is that the ListServe remain an open forum. ASUAF President Nicole Carvajal shares the same feelings, calling the ListServe “an email signboard.”

Oddly enough, the ListServe has no official guidelines and anyone can be added to it, not just ASUAF members. The only protocol that does exist, and which Phillips uses to moderate the server, is the University of Alaska’s Acceptable Use of Online Resources which states that an individual is prohibited from using “list serves or mailing lists…in a manner inconsistent with or disruptive of University business.”

Since the ListServe was created by ASUAF, Phillips said, it has the ability to create a list of rules to govern its use. Freitag, however, was unaware that the senate could govern the ListServe. Carvajal, too, informed me that while ASUAF can recommend someone be removed, the decision ultimately lay in the hands of the server’s staff moderator (Phillips).

While there is nothing in the ASUAF bylaws about governing the ListServe, it is, according to Phillips, within the body’s jurisdiction to do so. While Freitag doesn’t believe that the senate will pass laws regulating the ListServe anytime soon, she remains apprehensive about the senate’s role in potentially governing the server. The first step, she says, is to “educate the senate about its use.”

This exchange, between disgruntled ListServe members and ASUAF employees, is an old fight over what exactly the ListServe should be used for. Ryan Duffy, the ASUAF senate chair, said it best: “The ASUAF list serve is a public list serve and everyone is welcome on it. It is not only for Senators or Executives…someone made [an] obvious mistake, people complain about messages being sent over the ASUAF list serve by sending messages over [the] ASUAF list serve.”

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