Facebook complicates the student-professor relationship

Facebook has more than 175 million users. If the social networking site was a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world.

As Facebook continues to grow, however, the information that is spread through the site is leading to complicated relationships between people who would otherwise only know one another casually.

More professors are joining the Facebook network and often become friends on the site with their students, leading to the spread of information about one another that would previously have been private.

Mark Gammon, assistant professor of religion, is one professor who has joined the site and is friends with some of his students.

“I do have many of my students as Facebook friends, and most of them have added me,” Gammon said. “I was reluctant to use Facebook for a while, as it seemed like a ‘student thing,’ but I had several students urge me to sign on. I’ve found that a lot of my old friends from high school and college are there, and we’re reconnecting as never before.”

As more professors join, many students are becoming conscious of the information posted and pictures that they’re tagged in.

“Knowing that my professors have the ability to view my activity makes me more consciously aware of what I post and upload,” freshman Jessica Volk said.

Freshman Pat Gerhardt agrees with Volk. He said that keeping an eye on what others post of him is just as important as what he posts himself.

“I would say that I am more conscious of what pictures may come of me versus my own Facebook site because I have complete control over my personal site since I’m the only one with the password,” Gerhardt said.

To Gammon, however, the photos won’t affect the relationship between him and his students, though he cautions his students about the things posted.

“I have seen some things that students have put up that I’m sure the students haven’t really thought through,” Gammon said. “Whenever you’re making a public, or semi-public, presentation of yourself, you ought to be careful, and sometimes students haven’t really learned that lesson. It isn’t a huge issue for me, but I’m not an employer.”

Not only can professors look at these pictures and information posted, but if students are members of the Simpson network and don’t set strict privacy settings to their accounts, anyone else on the network can see their information as well.

Currently, school officials don’t use Facebook to monitor students.

“I think the assumption there is that someone is always on Facebook running around looking at stuff,” Stephanie Krauth, associate dean of students, said. “And that’s just not the case. We don’t have time for that. So, we really don’t have a policy or procedure or any type of protocol in place yet.”

Some students say they aren’t concerned about what they post on their sites.

“I think professors with Facebook accounts can be a problem to some,” freshman David Talley said. “To me personally, it doesn’t bother me. I never really thought about professors seeing my photos. I just never worried about it. I don’t have my profile set to anything because of professors having Facebook accounts.”

Talley acknowledged that an academic relationship could be affected by Facebook.

“I don’t think professors really care, but one bad picture could potentially lead to a bad impression I’m sure,” Talley said. “The relationship can therefore be damaged by what the professor has seen and thinks this student is like this, but really that student may be exactly the opposite.”

This is part one in a three-part series on the possible consequences of Facebook indiscretion.