While you may not see professors shopping in Weshop or studying in Olin, they are now popping up in a different student-oriented environment. Facebook’s “Wesleyan Faculty” network currently boasts 16 members.
“I opened an account with Facebook three or four years ago, right when it came out,” said Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Michael McAlear. “As the academic advisor for the men’s hockey team, I thought it would be a good idea to set one up so students could send me messages other than through regular e-mail.”
Wesleyan Wind Ensemble (WesWinds) Conductor Peter Hadley started his profile for similar purposes.
“I made a Wesleyan group for Wind Ensemble, and sent out a Facebook message saying that rehearsals were starting up,” Hadley said. “I advertised the last concert and sent it to friends on Facebook. It was helpful for notifying the campus about the event.”
Professor of Sociology Rob Rosenthal, however, activated his profile merely for amusement.
“I have a Facebook profile only because some of my students one year insisted I get one, a kind of friendly joke, I think,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t use it.”
To date, the 7,002 members listed in the Wesleyan University network demonstrates Facebook’s use as a tool for communication, capable of reaching a wide range of people. Students, however, harbor mixed opinions about seeing their professors on Facebook.
“I think it’s valid for professors to have profiles so they can keep in touch with people,” said Ben Carman ’11. “But when professors start ’friending’ students, that’s when it begins to cross the line. Students may feel awkward if they don’t accept their professor’s friend request, and if they do, it gives professors a bigger lens into students’ lives.”
Students have also expressed concerns over the way Facebook is changing.
“I liked it better when Facebook was open just to students,” said Max Rothstein ’11. “I’m not trying to ’friend’ professors, nor do I want them to see personal pictures of me.”
But students aren’t the only ones who are hesitant to let professors see potentially inappropriate pictures—the professors do not necessarily want to see them either.
“I think [Facebook] should be renamed, ’Look at pictures of me drinking,’” McAlear said. “Students can project a certain image of themselves, and much of it can be narcissistic nonsense. Sure, it’s a valuable social network, but the site allows you to tailor your image to what you want the world to see.”
“I don’t judge what people put up on their profile, but sometimes there’s more information there than I want to know,” he said.
Rothstein noted that the advent of Facebook’s “limited profile” has been a helpful solution to these privacy issues, allowing users to decide who receives full access to their profile.
“I can see where the ’limited profile’ is a useful solution, but Facebook needs to figure out a way to allow for that exchange [between students and teachers] without either side having to change their profiles…possibly through separate networks,” he said.
For some professors, privacy is not just an issue with their students, but with their families, too.
“I got ’unfriended’ by my own son, so I understand that students may want to keep this aspect of their lives private,” McAlear said.
Visiting Assistant Professor of English Charles Baraw had a similar experience.
“I have a niece who didn’t ’friend’ me back,” he said. “I understand the privacy issue.”
The majority of professors, however, are not overwhelmingly impressed by the site. Many said they check Facebook monthly—unlike many students who view it multiple times per day—or wait for an e-mail notifying them of a message.
“I really go on only once a month, but it’s nice to connect with past students and see what they’re up to,” McAlear said. “In reality, though, if I want to talk to someone, I pick up the phone or e-mail them directly.”
Professors also noted that one great feature of Facebook is that it connects them to students’ extracurricular interests.
“I get invites from students about performances, art shows, and political events,” Baraw said. “That I find really cool because I know what students are involved with on campus.”
For the most part, though, Blackboard and e-mail continue to dominate online communication between professors and students.
“Facebook doesn’t offer anything academically that Blackboard doesn’t,” Hadley said.
Baraw noted that though he uses Blackboard to post course documents, he has found it to be constricting. Although he doesn’t use Facebook for his courses, he explained that changes to the site could possibly facilitate its academic use.
While Facebook does allow for discussion outside the classroom, the majority of professors view the site so infrequently that it largely fails to serve that purpose.
“When I do remember to look at it, about twice a year, I discover occasional e-mails from alums who have stumbled across it,” Rosenthal said. “I then have to sheepishly write them and apologize for not getting back to them sooner and explain I’m not truly a Facebook person.”