As students receive their fall class schedules, professors with profiles on social media websites, such as Facebook, will likely receive friend requests from many of them.
According to an article in USA Today, the growing trend of social networking on college campuses is blurring the lines between appropriate student-faculty relations.
In March, USA Today reported that an East Stroudsberg University sociology professor was placed on administrative leave after a student reported two of her Facebook postings that could have been interpreted as threats.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Don Mills, said student-faculty interaction on Facebook caused some problems at the university this year when faculty requested students to add them as “friends.” Students were uncomfortable with it, and may have felt that their privacy had been invaded, he said.
“We have dealt with it, it’s not frequent,” he said. “Both students and faculty are using very good judgement.”
Mills said the university had considered making recommendations about appropriate social media conduct, but has no “hard and fast” policies about online student-faculty relationships in place yet, and may never create any.
“We’re very reluctant to limit people’s freedom to say what they want to say, post what they want to post, but it’s a very tricky issue,” Mills said.
Mills said he thought social media sites could be a great way for students and faculty to communicate.
“Students have appropriate student life, and faculty have appropriate faculty life,” he said. “And where those two intersect in the academic arena, then I think it’s perfectly appropriate to use all kinds of technology to interact and to grow intellectually.”
Geoff Campbell, a Schieffer School adjunct professor, said he routinely tells his students they are welcome to find him on Facebook.
“I view it as more of a bridge. I think it’s just another avenue for communicating that can only help,” Campbell said.
Geography professor Jeffrey Roet said he would never ask a student to be a friend on Facebook, and would never contact a current student via a social network.
However, allowing former students to “friend” him does have its advantages, he said.
“After a student graduates, it is a great way to stay in touch with former professors,” Roet said. “Students who took my class in 1982 and so on have contacted me via Facebook. It was great to catch up with them.”
Trevor Yarbrough, a senior geography major who is friends with Roet on Facebook, said that he thought Roet handled social networking well by not making students feel pressured to accept his friend request.
Yarbrough said that he added Roet as his friend when he took his class in spring 2008, and did not see any problem with it.
“It wouldn’t bother me if there was some kind of rule against it, but I don’t really see it causing that much harm in my own life,” he said.
However, Yarbrough said that he could understand how students who use Facebook more often than him might run into problems.
“I know a lot of students put a lot of things on Facebook that they probably shouldn’t tell anyone,” he said.
Clay Knowles, a junior graphic design major, “friended” a few of his teachers on Facebook, but said it might be weird if they started commenting on his pictures and status updates.
“It depends on my relationship with them.” Knowles said. “Teachers in my major, I’m closer to.”