Appropriate Use of MSU E-mail Services by Internal Users on MSUnet FAQ
Revised 8 May 2009 - Administrative Ruling
Note: This FAQ may be edited from time to time to enhance its completeness or accuracy.
1. Why do we need an Administrative Ruling like this at all?
The University needs an effective means of internal communication to support its mission of teaching, research, and service. The effectiveness of a communications channel is adversely affected by the quantity of unsolicited communications it carries. Therefore, this Administrative Ruling has been implemented to promote institutional operating efficiency and the effectiveness of electronic communications within the MSU community.
2. How frequent is unsolicited e-mail on MSU’s system?
Industry estimates of the quantity of unsolicited “junk” or “spam” e-mail in 2009 indicate that it may constitute as much as 90-95% of all global e-mail volume. MSU operates spam filters designed to block a very large measure of the known types of spam. However, e-mail between internal MSU users (those with individual MSU NetIDs) is not filtered for spam as aggressively as e-mail arriving to MSU from external sources. Therefore, we also need to rely on each other to manage the volume of internal unsolicited e-mail.
3. The Administrative Ruling says that MSU’s e-mail service is not intended as a forum for the expression of personal opinions. If I have an opinion I wish to express, may I use the e-mail service to send a note to a University administrator or governance committee, or a note to an external organization or publication?
This Administrative Ruling is intended to regulate unsolicited e-mail. Unsolicited e-mail is defined in the Administrative Ruling as email received by a person who has not elected to receive the e-mail by having indicated a prior interest and willingness to receive communications from the sender (e.g., having previously sent a communication to the sender to which the sender may be responding; being an acquaintance of the sender; belonging to a set of individuals who have chosen to affiliate and communicate with one another for a particular University purpose).
Committees, organizations, newspapers, and administrators expect to hear from people having concerns or ideas about matters that fall within that individual’s or group’s domain. Such communications are one-to-one and represent acceptable uses of the MSU e-mail service. It also is acceptable to use MSU e-mail services to communicate with other members of committees, clubs, organizations, work groups, and other sets of individuals who are affiliated for a particular University purpose, if the e-mail is relevant to their business or concerns. For example, students in a class might e-mail one another ideas, opinions, and information from that class regarding the subject area of the class.
When sending an e-mail from an MSU e-mail account to someone outside of the University community, University employees should take great care to explicitly note that the contents of their e-mail are personal and do not represent the University, or, better yet, use a personal e-mail account other than their MSU account. Members of the public seeing “@msu.edu” in the From address will sometimes mistakenly assume that the contents of the note express official institutional views or positions, or may complain that public resources are being used for personal purposes.
4. The Administrative Ruling says that it is not permissible to send e-mail on the same topic to more than 10 other internal users. What if I want to invite my friends to a party and I have more than 10 friends?
This Administrative Ruling is intended to constrain unsolicited e-mail. Your friends would expect to hear from you about this and other topics, so the e-mail would not be “unsolicited.”
5. May I use my MSU e-mail account for personal uses like online shopping?
This Administrative Ruling permits incidental personal use of the e-mail system, including e-mailing family members and online shopping. However, individuals should be aware that online merchants often sell their contact lists to other companies. This can lead to your MSU e-mail account receiving additional spam from commercial entities. Many individuals often choose to open a free personal e-mail account with a commercial service outside of MSU (e.g., Google, Yahoo) for their use in online commerce, just to avoid having their MSU e-mail address get onto too many commercial lists.
This Administrative Ruling does not address other policies and regulations regarding personal use of University resources that may also apply.
6. What does the University’s tax-exempt status possibly have to do with my use of MSU e-mail services?
Michigan State University is a tax-exempt organization under Federal and State tax laws. Those laws prohibit tax-exempt organizations such as the University from using their resources for political purposes related to public elections and from use of their resources for private economic profit or gain. Accordingly, this Administrative Ruling would prohibit the use of the University’s e-mail service to engage in activities such as advocating for a ballot initiative, distributing materials related to a political campaign for a candidate for elected office, advertising personal services or goods for sale, or operating a private business.
7. In addition to my role(s) at MSU, I am active in a community organization and I often need to send communications on behalf of that organization. May I use my MSU e-mail account for this purpose?
While this Administrative Ruling does not specifically preclude this type of use, it would be best to use a non-MSU e-mail account for communications relating to non-MSU organizations. Members of the public seeing “@msu.edu” in the From address will sometimes mistakenly assume that the contents of the note express official institutional views or positions, or may complain that public resources are being used for personal purposes or to support organizations or causes not directly affiliated with MSU.
8. I am a MSU retiree, and nearly all of my MSU e-mail account use is for personal purposes. Does this Administrative Ruling mean that I can’t use my MSU e-mail account anymore?
MSU has had a tradition of providing continuing e-mail service to retirees. Many retirees continue to do work on behalf of the University, and many retired faculty continue to pursue their scholarship, teach, mentor students, or contribute to University programs in other ways. Since the Administrative Ruling permits incidental personal uses of the e-mail system, most retirees will not find that their use of the e-mail system is restricted in any significant way by this Ruling.
9. Why are there so many rules about surveys?
People can experience “survey fatigue” from being asked to participate in too many surveys just like they can experience “spam fatigue” from receiving too much spam e-mail. A few times each year, MSU must conduct surveys for administrative reasons such as complying with a law or participating in a national program or study important to the University as a whole. A certain number of surveys are inevitable and it is important that these are conducted under the best possible conditions for effective participation.
Particular surveys may also interfere with the University’s official working relationship with its collective bargaining units, student and faculty academic governance bodies, or other similar types of relationships. Both content and timing can matter in this regard, so the rules work to assure that appropriate reviews of the surveys are conducted by knowledgeable offices.
10. What happens if someone violates this Administrative Ruling?
The University does not actively monitor use of its e-mail services for violations. Administrative actions in response to suspected or alleged violations are triggered by the appropriate administrative office (Network Abuse) becoming aware of a potential violation, usually because an e-mail user who has received unsolicited e-mail makes an inquiry or complains.
When a complaint or inquiry is received, Network Abuse staff will investigate the matter to determine whether the e-mail at issue is acceptable under the Administrative Ruling. If so, the matter is dropped. If the e-mail may not be acceptable under the Administrative Ruling, the individual who sent the e-mail will be notified by Network Abuse staff of the alleged violation and asked for an explanation. This usually results in an educational conversation -- the individual may acknowledge that he/she was not familiar with the ruling and will comply with it in the future. At this point, nothing more usually happens.
Repeat or egregious violations are referred by the Network Abuse office to a venue for appropriate disciplinary follow up. In the case of an employee, the referral is made to the employee’s immediate supervisor. In the case of a student, the referral is made to the Judicial Affairs Office. In extreme cases, revocation or limitation of e-mail privileges may also result.
11. Can I be disciplined if someone “hijacks” my e-mail account and uses it inappropriately?
Sometimes e-mail is sent in a way to make it appear that it has come from one account when it actually has been sent by another. Computer viruses and other malware are sometimes designed to distribute themselves by intruding into one person’s e-mail system and using the address book to send copies of themselves to other computers, sometimes using the intruded account’s From address. Other types of computer “hacking” will involve the hacker using someone else’s stolen electronic identity. When complaints of inappropriate e-mail use are received by the Network Abuse staff, their investigation includes a determination of the actual source account from which the mail was sent, so that a legitimate user is not held accountable for inappropriate use by someone else.
12. What does “MSU e-mail services” mean? Does this Administrative Ruling apply to unit-level e-mail services?
This Administrative Ruling applies to all internal e-mail services, whether at the University level (e.g., “mail.msu.edu”) or at the level of an internal unit (college, division, department, etc.) that supports an e-mail service at that level. The Administrative Ruling permits less restrictive uses of bulk e-mailing within unit-level domains, at the discretion of the unit. Units also may elect to have more restrictive rules regarding e-mail use within their local domains. Users having accounts in unit-level e-mail services are encouraged to become familiar with the rules pertaining to each such service.