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University Web Developers

I've gained a lot from looking through the thread on university social media policies, but there's an area I don't see covered that I'm wondering about. At my institution, we've had a few episodes of inappropriate interaction between faculty & students on Facebook--mostly with students misunderstanding the boundaries of what's appropriate, but a couple times with faculty making the same mistake. Now some of our administrators are insisting that we have a "Facebook policy" that will strictly define the ways in which faculty can interact with students using social media. I'm not sure what will come of this--and I'm aware that there are significant First Amendment implications. It hasn't become formal yet and frankly, I want to use it as a teaching opportunity rather than a punitive or limiting one, but I need ammunition. I'm wondering if any of you have encountered such a situation and whether you have had such policies imposed on you? If so, I would be very interested in seeing examples of such policies or guidelines.

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I'm curious, you say "...students misunderstanding the boundaries of what's appropriate, but a couple times with faculty making the same mistake," which would imply to me you already know what should and shouldn't be allowed, which would further suggest you already have the basis for a policy.

So, the first question is, what in your view (or the administration's) constitutes inappropriate communication?
Welcome to the million-dollar question, Michael. Often it seems that the reaction of some administrators is very defensive and restictive--when we started to develop our appropriate use of e-mail policy back in the day, some in the admin thought that administrators should have the right to go in and read anyone's e-mail at any time, and we had to educate them about why that wasn't a good idea (using the Harvard policy on Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in the Workplace, among others). Again, it can be a "teaching opportunity"--maybe as much for the policy makers as for the rest of the community. But that's why I'm looking for models! Thanks for the reply.
Okay. Well, here's my suggestion:

In my opinion, conversation that takes place outside of university controlled channels is largely outside of university regulation, except in cases where said communication directly impacts the college (i.e. talking to a newspaper about a campus event). For example, let's say you tell professors they can't talk to students on Facebook. How is that different from telling them they shouldn't use the phone, leave voicemails, email, or should avoid bumping into students at Wal-Mart? Colleges should be fostering environments for open communication. Trying to restrain it is like the little boy with his finger in the dam.

Now, there are a handful of very specific execptions to this, think athletics personnel contacting high school students. That should be the way it's handled. Address exact reasons for certain communication control, otherwise don't try to control what you can't, and don't make up problems. If you aren't solving a specific problem, then you shouldn't do it. And if you are, make sure you're solving the right problem. In this example, if the problem is improper communication between students and faculty, the problem isn't Facebook anymore than it would be a phone.
You and I are on the same page. The problem, as always, is getting other people on that page too--especially people who don't use or understand social media but have policy-making power. So the education effort continues.
It's a perfect fit: education is your strongest weapon here. First educate, then try to push through decisions.

Are they actually considering banning all communication between students & faculty via social media? Or are they just trying to stamp out the same activities that would be inappropriate regardless of medium - and what would those activities even be?
I have a little bit different view on this. I have been on the student side being contacted by a professor via Facebook, and now I'm on the side of helping make the policies.

I once took a 3 week class over winter break. The second day of class the Professor friended me on Facebook. I accepted the request because it was the only 2nd day of class and I didn't want him to hold anything against me (i know that sounds stupid but i was worried about the class and my grade because I needed it to graduate). The next day in class he referenced a blog post I wrote several months prior. He never wrote anything on my wall but would send me messages throughout the class and the following semester requesting me take more of his classes.
AWKWARD!!! It made me feel very uncomfortable especially in his class because I never knew if he would say something about anything I posted during class.

So now I'm more on the cautious side with Faculty/Staff reaching out to students on Social Networks. I've had other professors friend me while I was in college, but not while I was in their class.

We need to be aware and protect the students. Faculty and staff represent the University whether or not it is outside university controlled channels.

We currently have a UCS (use common sense) policy at our university, but what might be common sense for someone is not always for everyone.

In whatever you decide make sure it protects the students.
Lane and Melissa, thanks for the valuable input. Lane, your situation is especially valuable--to my knowledge we haven't had that problem here but it's worth watching out for. As you say, students have to be protected.

I appreciate all the feedback! Thanks.
Lane, thanks for the great real-life example of the "creepy treehouse effect"

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