ContractsProf Blog

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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Friday, March 21, 2008

To Facebook or Not to Facebook

Do professors have a life outside of class? Or, do they strut and fret their hour up at the lectern, then lie dormant until the next class starts? Well, if any student ever believed the professor disappeared into a void only to reappear for classes, the internet apparently has the capability to ruin this fantasy. From an article in yesterday's New York Times, which invokes contract law's very own Professor Kingsfield as the archetype of all professors:

There was a time when professors did not outrank music premieres on television. They were buttoned-up authority figures, like the legendary fictional Professor Kingsfield, portrayed by John Houseman in “The Paper Chase.” The personal lives of professors could only be imagined from the sparse clues of clothing, handwriting and the contents of offices.

These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professors’ Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries “written” by their dogs and vacation photographs.

While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professor’s job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.

Certainly, professors have embraced the Internet since its earliest days, using it as a scholarly avenue of communication, publication and debate. Now it is common for many to reveal more personal information that has little connection to their work

Some do so in hopes it will attract attention for a book or paper they have written; others do so inadvertently, joining Facebook to communicate with students and then finding themselves lured deeper by its various applications.

Many, though, say that by divulging family history and hobbies, they hope to appear more accessible to students.

Well, even with all of the cyber-accessibility and transparency, the article continues:

A number of professors said the most disarming thing of all to students is when they encounter a professor not on a Web page, but in the real world.

When a student spotted Mr. Gosling on a street near campus, he said, “She looked at me in, like, horror. Like, ‘Wait a minute, you have a life?’ The idea that I would continue to exist — it was sort of a violation of her expectations.”

Funny, I always thought that the most disarming thing for students happened right in class: the realization that I am nothing like Professor Kingsfield.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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