An Ohio State professor sent an email Thursday intended for the department’s undergraduate advising office regarding a student’s medical issues and struggles in class to approximately 2,000 undergraduate students within the College of Engineering, prompting a review by the university.
The mistaken email, sent by Rephael Wenger, an associate professor and the associate chair of the department of computer science and engineering, generated buzz on an online forum.
After the 2,000 students wrongly received the email, the academic advising office within the College of Engineering sent a follow-up email an hour later to the same group of students saying the original email could not be recalled and that the office would be investigating the situation.
Emails sent by authorized users, in this case Wenger, are not moderated, and therefore do not require approval before they are sent.
“I appreciate the concern that several of you have expressed,” said Nikki Strader, an academic advising coordinator for the College of Engineering, in an email responding to the situation. “It is indeed a serious matter, and we are investigating it to the fullest extent. In the meantime, please delete the previous email.”
Despite Strader’s plea, by the next morning, the online post displaying the original email had received hundreds of views and dozens of comments.
“I don’t know what [the university] is going to do. I know we take it extremely seriously. I know the university takes it extremely seriously,” Wenger said the day after his mistake. “It shouldn’t have happened. It was an honest mistake.”
An apologetic and remorseful Wenger was hesitant to delve further into the matter, but acknowledged the review now underway, saying “I know I’m in trouble.”
The university is reviewing its policies on emails from professors and is putting additional steps in place to ensure something like this does not happen again.
“Processes have been put in place to prevent this from happening in the future. The college is thoroughly reviewing the matter and will take any additional appropriate follow up actions that are identified,” university spokesman Ben Johnson said in an email. “The protocol for use of and access to listservs was reviewed and updated to require additional internal approval before messages are distributed.”
A listserv is software used by email platforms to streamline receivers of an email. When a sender chooses a listserv, the one email then goes out to all users on the corresponding list, which in this case was an entire department worth of undergraduate students.
With procedures not previously in place, a simple user error allowed for personal information of a student to be broadcasted to an entire department.