Friday, March 21, 2008
The New York Times published a story yesterday on The Professor as Open Book, noting that professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing a great deal of personal information on blogs, web pages, Facebook and other social networking sites, and even campus television. The story, written by Stephanie Rosenbloom, describes how some professors have created video responses to postings from students, such as that a professor is "boring beyond belief." The print version of the story (appearing on page E1 of my edition in Chicago) features a photograph Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) from the movie, The Paper Chase.
The story raises questions about how much personal information professors should share with students. There are certainly arguments in favor of making the law professor "more human," and sharing personal information or photographs on a personal webpage can certainly do that. But there are also many other ways to accomplish that same goal without relying on electronic disclosures such as MySpace or Facebook.
Some will ask whether law professors (as opposed to professors in other disciplines) should be more aloof? I've known colleagues who pride themselves on keeping great distances between themselves and their students, at least when the students are taking classes. They might loosen up a bit when the semester is over, or after the students graduate. But in the field of legal writing, my experience has been that the most successful (and happy) professors would not be bothered if students knew something about their personal lives, or about what books they read or which movies they enjoy.
Obviously the debate is not one that will be solved by a newspaper article. But the debate does raise interesting issues of professionalism, communication, and effective teaching.
I have a Facebook page on which I post warnings to students about what they put on their Facebook pages. Many students do not realize that employers will look at their Facebook pages, and at the pages (and photos) on the "friends" identified on those pages. My facebook page does not contain so much personal information about me, but it does contain some things that are not (for example) on the faculty bio on the website for The John Marshall Law School. I know that students look at the page (they tell me so in the halls here from time to time), and I hope that they read the warnings about cleaning up their own webpages so that they won't be used against them later in job searches.
An interesting debate indeed. Thanks for the story, Stephanie!