Professors on Facebook II

Responding to a Stephanie Rosenbloom piece in the NYT about professors who blur the lines dividing them from their students via Facebook and other social media networks, Dan Drezner observes,

I neither accept nor proffer friend requests from current students.

I do this because, well, I’m not their friend — and letting them think otherwise is deeply problematic. I’m their teacher, their sometimes advisor, and their occasionally harsh taskmaster. Friendship comes only after the grading portion of the relationship is over — and only then if I’m in a good mood.

Quite right.

My teaching days predated the Facebook era, so this wasn’t a problem I faced. But I’d have no sooner “friended” a student than have had them to call me by my first name. Creating the false illusion of equality in a hierarchical relationship is a bad idea all around.

West Point cadets are required to memorize this passage from Brevet Major William Jenkins Worth’s Battalion Orders:

[A]n officer on duty knows no one — to be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offences in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated, the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.

With some minor editing, that serves as good advice to anyone in a position of authority.

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Responding to a Stephanie Rosenbloom piece in the NYT about professors who blur the lines dividing them from their students via Facebook and other social media networks, Dan Drezner observes,

    The larger point here is that professors are–by and large–liberals whose main motivation is to spread immoral and anti-patriotic views. This trend of “befriending” students clearly fits into this pattern of subverting authority structures and is part of the reason that the country’s resolve is dissolving in the face of evil.

  2. carpeicthus says:

    I have to say, I find James’s attitude really sad. Not because he’s wrong, but because the entire damn system is wrong. College shouldn’t be about coddling children, forcing them to learn basics, which is what you need a harsh taskmaster for. You’re supposed to be helping their transition to be the intellectual peers that we want them to be in either graduate school or high-level occupations. Instead, we get delayed adolescence.

    The turning point in my college career was when I started seeing professors as colleagues. It’s a different, MUCH BETTER experience when you can play videogames with a professor or make deep-dish pizza at their house. That’s how you go beyond learning by rote to becoming part of an intellectual environment. It’s what encouraged me to take a slew of graduate-level courses as an undergrad, because I could interact with research on a different levels.

    The academy was never supposed to be about harsh taskmasters. The forces that have made them so are much bigger than any one professor.

  3. Facebook ethics…

    Maintaining a proper student-teacher relationship is obviously important, and I’m not a professor, so I’ve never considered this issue. Facebook is a very powerful tool for networking and communication, which is how I use it: A sort of combination of…

  4. ScottS says:

    The larger point here is that professors are — by and large — liberals whose main motivation is to spread immoral and anti-patriotic views.

    Huh? That’s not the point of the article at all. This could be an interesting comment thread; let’s not feed this troll any more than I just did.

    I basically agree with Drezner. Unless a facebook is strictly engineered to be a communication device for course material (as many teachers use blogs and email groups), it blurs a boundary that should remain intact.

    Do college students need boundaries as protection? Are professors incapable or remaining objective about students who are (sincerely or insincerely) friendly? I think not, but I also think it is wise to err on the side of caution as society continues to evolve and become enmeshed with the net.

    In case you don’t know, friending someone on facebook isn’t necessarily all that meaningful, actually, lots of people have hundreds of “friends”, the vast majority of which are barely acquaintances. The usage of the word “friend” by young people has already shifted towards something closer to “someone I know and like” and not “someone I spend time with and feel loyalty to.” The cultural shift towards openness — there are no secrets anymore, with cell phone cameras and the internet — is something we are in the midst of, but the end state of that isn’t licentious anarchy, and it might actually be healthy for humanity in the long run.

    Teachers with an emotional need to be the cool one should be viewed skeptically, especially in MS and HS, and I think that’s the point of this post. Like it or not, posers can use social networking sites to start down an unrighteous path, and professors should proceed with caution.

    At the same time, you teach the students you have, not the students you wish you had, and if students come to expect a degree of informality you can’t blame teachers for wanting to compete. I had several profs in college who threw dinner parties for their seminar classes, and there was nothing untoward about it, actually they were fascinating and memorable evenings. I am totally convinced that an occasional joke or personal anecdote told in class (I teach HS seniors) ends up bringing more students in and more learning happens as a result. The other 95% of our time is serious. There are teachers, mostly older ones, who don’t let their guard down ever, but they rarely end up becoming mentors, and mentoring is part of the job. What crosses the line? Hmm.

    In a few years, I suspect having a facebook will be no big deal, and probably it doesn’t need to be.

    The generation gap is growing. The ability of young people to multitask, communicate, and find context is breathtaking, and they are going to leave us in the dust.

    So facebook, yeah, discretion is wise. But, the entire nature of human relationships is changing fast and there is no easy way to translate the boundaries of the past into cyberspace. We should consider whether transparency itself will act as a self-regulating boundary, without a need to have formality for its own sake.

  5. DL says:

    This holds true everywhere -er- unless you make it to the presidency where you can pardon all those whom you please with nary an investigation from the watchdog media or loss of love from your adoring fans. Go Billary!

  6. James Joyner says:

    You’re supposed to be helping their transition to be the intellectual peers that we want them to be in either graduate school or high-level occupations. Instead, we get delayed adolescence.

    I’m not sure that a mentorship relationship and maintaining prudent separation are mutually exclusive. I didn’t have students over at the house making pizza but we certainly had social events with the poli-sci majors. Even around the office, there was a certain informality with the regular students.

    Even post-graduation — or, hell, mid-career — on doesn’t treat one’s seniors as true peers. I call my boss by his first name and we treat each other as professional colleagues; but he’s still the boss.