Students once would only dare to approach a lecturer with a meek knock and a humble "Excuse me, professor". But now they bombard lecturers with e-mail messages at all hours of the day to make banal or impertinent queries in a manner that ranges from the overly familiar to the downright rude.
UK academics say e-mail is erasing the boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance. Students hit the send button at all hours, even on Christmas Day, addressing their tutors by their first names only and often in a style so informal that the message ends in "hugs" and "kisses".
One lecturer received this from a drama undergraduate: "Hey. do u have to quote from all the plays u r referrin 2 in the drama essay or just paraphrase? thank." Another regularly receives e-mails signed "hugs 'n' kisses", "cheers mate" and "see you in class!"
One student expected his lecturer to reply immediately to the following:
"Sorry I lost the handout that gave me the essay title - I know it's due in tomorrow so can you send it again, Pete?" The essay referred to had been set a month earlier.
The examples emerge from an informal Times Higher survey of UK academics - who were only too pleased too divulge their experiences. Today's e-mail correspondence also increasingly reflects students' perception of themselves as paying customers.
One sent an e-mail to his tutor threatening to "take his fees elsewhere"
unless he had a prompt response about why he had failed a module.
Another wrote: "I see no point in retaking this exam unless you can provide me with feedback of where I underperformed. I hope you can supply this to me at the nearest opportunity."