Appropriate Use of MSU E-mail Services by Internal Users on MSUnet FAQ

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?

2. How frequent is unsolicited email on MSU’s system?

3. The Administrative Ruling says that MSU’s email 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 email 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 email. Unsolicited email is defined in the Administrative Ruling as email received by a person who has not elected to receive the email 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 email service. It also is acceptable to use MSU email 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 email is relevant to their business or concerns. For example, students in a class might email one another ideas, opinions, and information from that class regarding the subject area of the class.

When sending an email from an MSU email account to someone outside of the University community, University employees should take great care to explicitly note that the contents of their email are personal and do not represent the University, or, better yet, use a personal email 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 email 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 email. Your friends would expect to hear from you about this and other topics, so the email would not be “unsolicited.”

5. May I use my MSU email account for personal uses like online shopping?

This Administrative Ruling permits incidental personal use of the email system, including emailing 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 email account receiving additional spam from commercial entities. Many individuals often choose to open a free personal email account with a commercial service outside of MSU (e.g., Google, Yahoo) for their use in online commerce, just to avoid having their MSU email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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 email 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 email account use is for personal purposes. Does this Administrative Ruling mean that I can’t use my MSU email account anymore?

MSU has had a tradition of providing continuing email 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 email system, most retirees will not find that their use of the email 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 email. 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 email 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 email user who has received unsolicited email makes an inquiry or complains.

When a complaint or inquiry is received, Network Abuse staff will investigate the matter to determine whether the email at issue is acceptable under the Administrative Ruling. If so, the matter is dropped. If the email may not be acceptable under the Administrative Ruling, the individual who sent the email 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 email privileges may also result.

11. Can I be disciplined if someone “hijacks” my email account and uses it inappropriately?

Sometimes email 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 email 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 email 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 email services” mean? Does this Administrative Ruling apply to unit-level email services?

This Administrative Ruling applies to all internal email 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 email service at that level. The Administrative Ruling permits less restrictive uses of bulk emailing within unit-level domains, at the discretion of the unit. Units also may elect to have more restrictive rules regarding email 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.

Revised 8 May 2009 – Administrative Ruling