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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Getting social

As sophomore Ayla Ferrone scrolled through her Facebook News Feed on Monday, she noticed her professor’s son had posted a birthday YouTube video to his father’s wall. She resisted the urge to comment on the video, unsure if it was crossing the line. She did, however, say she would wish her professor a happy birthday.

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Left: Sophomore Ayla Ferrone browses her professor Bob Niedt’s Facebook profile. Right: Niedt checks his News Feed. He and Ferrone are friends on Facebook. Graham Hebel/The Ithacan

As social networks continue to encroach on day-to-day life, students and professors are working to clarify the line between Facebook-friending and classroom professionalism. These new online friendships are causing some students and professors to monitor what they post online and are changing Facebook from a strictly social site to a greater networking tool.

Since there is no current policy at the college restricting information shared on Facebook, students and professors must use individual judgment to decide if Facebook friendship is appropriate.

Investigator Tom Dunn said Public Safety only investigates Facebook relationships if someone contacts them with an issue regarding threatening posts.

“We have taken complaints if you were being harassed by someone on Facebook and you reported it to us, but we don’t monitor,” he said.

Ferrone said she hides some profile information from her family but finds no reason to hide it from her professors. Instead, she said she friends professors she thinks will avoid using her Facebook profile against her.

“I really don’t think they care that much, to be honest,” she said. “If they did see it, what are they going to do about it? They may call me out on it, but I wouldn’t become friends with them on Facebook if I thought they were going to get me in trouble.”

Junior Benjamin Jeffirs said it is acceptable to be Facebook friends with professors, but students should be careful to restrict what they post online in general.

“It’s the same guidelines that pertain to any relationship you have online,” he said. “You keep it to things you wouldn’t mind being published.”

Adam Peruta, assistant professor of strategic communication, said he does not accept friend requests from current students. He said he generally does not request former students, even if he knew them well. Peruta said Facebook friendships might mislead students and damage the class environment.

“If a student is friends with a professor and currently in their class, it might give them the wrong idea and think the professor might be a little bit more lenient or there might be an extra connection there that doesn’t exist in the classroom, which most of the time is not true,” he said.

Michael Sturgeon, the faculty coordinator of instructional technology at Lee University in Cleveland researched how Facebook affects college education. His study, “Faculty on Facebook: Confirm or deny?” from March 2009, found faculty were divided over whether or not to view student’s profiles. He said close to 50 percent of faculty surveyed would accept student requests, but not look for personal information about their students.

“We have faculty saying, ‘I can see into my students’ lives and I feel like I can lecture directly to what’s happening in their lives, so it makes my lectures more relevant,’” he said.

Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, accepts all current and former student friend requests and said she does not post personal information. Instead, she uses Facebook as an efficient way to get news to students.

She said she does not think online posts affect the way she views students professionally.

“I imagine that they don’t care, and in most cases I’m not in any sort of position to treat anyone different or make any decisions differently based on what I see on their Facebook profile,” she said.

Bob Niedt, journalism lecturer and a reporter for “The Post-Standard” in Syracuse, said he accepts friend requests from students and readers but has a personal policy against viewing their profiles. He said he maintains his profile like a professional, not personal, site and responds to student questions rather than initiating Facebook friendships or conversations.

“I have to act professionally as an educator and as a journalist,” he said. “That limits me from having a little fun and interacting with my friends and family as well. … I want to be an example as a professional journalist to my journalism students showing them professional standards.”

Jeffirs said while he doesn’t typically use Facebook to communicate with his professors, he wouldn’t ignore information on their profiles entirely.

“If a teacher I was close with went somewhere really neat I would look at their pictures and maybe comment on them,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve done that but if I wanted to, I would; I wouldn’t feel weird about it.”

However, sophomore Collin Schuck said students should monitor their posts and use Facebook as a professional tool.

“In college, you’re at a point in your life where you’re old enough to make your decisions,” he said. “You’re making connections with people in your field so I don’t think it’s inappropriate. I draw the line when you’re there to discuss personal life.”

Instead of using Facebook to communicate with professors or stay up-to-date about their personal lives, some students and professors are seeing a growing opportunity to keep in touch with each other throughout their careers.

Jeffirs, who is Facebook friends with his theater arts professor Jack Hrkach, said he noticed Hrkach’s former students rely on wall postings to keep Hrkach informed about their work.

“It helps to stay in contact after the class ends,” he said. “A lot of alumni still write on his wall about what they’ve been doing and stay in close contact with him. That’s probably one of the main benefits.”

Nicholas Walker, assistant professor of music performance, accepts current students as friends on Facebook. He said he works with students closely in class or in lessons and does not think social media crosses a professional boundary because it is already so open.

“I conceive of Facebook being a very public forum,” he said. “I would never post anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t say publicly at school, and I don’t think students would, or should, either.”