Accidental e-mail congratulates 7,000 on admission to UC Berkeley law school

Lesson learned: Always be careful when hitting the ‘send’ button

Edward Tom, director of admissions at the University of California, Berkeley, law school, was training a new office worker last week when it happened.

Tom was demonstrating the e-mail software used by the school and was highlighting several features, including how the user can filter mail and set it to send messages to one recipient or many at the same time.

That’s when he chose what happened to be a standard congratulatory message on being admitted to the university’s prestigious law school and accidentally sent it to all 7,000 students who have applied for admission to the law school. The problem, which the school quickly admitted, is that all of the applicants won’t be admitted. In fact, there’s only room for 800 to 850 of them. The e-mail congratulated the applicants on their recent “admission” to the school and invited them to an annual reception co-hosted by alumni and several student organizations.

“I hit the Send button,” Tom said, describing the mistake. “Normally when we do [training] for real, I have another person on staff who’s an expert.” But that worker was not available when the new employee started last Friday.

“I’ve never had a glitch with that expert in six years of training new staff members,” Tom said. “It takes a bumbling fool like me.”

After realizing what had happened, Tom sent out an apology e-mail to the applicant pool within 20 minutes. He sent another letter of apology the next day.

“I deeply regret any confusion or disappointment this error may have caused,” Tom said. “I know that many law school applicants are particularly anxious while awaiting the arrival of decision letters, and I regret that this incident may have added to that tension.”

Tom said he has since talked with workers in the school’s IT department to see if the software vendor can add a pop-up dialog box to the application to give users a last chance to confirm that they are about to send out e-mail.

So far, about 500 applicants to the school have actually been offered admission. The remainder will be notified in the next three weeks, with the process expected to be completed by the first week of April.

Tom said that about 10 applicants who received the errant e-mail informed him that were very distraught after learning that it was a mistake. About 90 others sent notes to him offering their understanding and accepting his apology.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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