The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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Letter to the Editor: Social media restrictions inhibit freedom

To the editor,

The University has recently asserted the right to tell all employees how to use their own personal Facebook accounts.  Last Wednesday, Vice President for Communications Pete Mackey posted “Social Media Guidelines for All Personnel” to the Message Center directing our attention to this webpage:  http://www.bucknell.edu/x68141.xml. The page lists a series of policies and guidelines about the use of social media by branches of the university, and it says “… if your personal site identifies you as a Bucknell employee, you are representing the University and these guidelines apply accordingly.”  [Emphasis in original.]

So I may say what I wish only if I do not identify my professional affiliation? This is pointlessly demeaning to all employees, of course. But for the faculty this policy violates two bedrock principles of the University: 1) academic freedom, wherein the University seeks to protect the right of the faculty to express themselves however they think is important and appropriate, and 2) shared governance, which says that the faculty will be involved in adopting the rules for their own role at the University.

I asked Pete Mackey several times how he justified this rule, and he would only point to a statement from AAUP (a national professors’ organization) that says faculty have an obligation to avoid appearing to speak for the University.  How this professor-to-professor statement of a self-evident principle justifies the University unilaterally claiming oversight powers on private faculty speech is unclear to me.

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A number of untenured faculty have told me already that they have removed their University affiliation from their Facebook profiles because they fear they will overstep some line.  This is a harmful stifling of free speech, and it feeds destructive paranoia about the nature of  the University among the people who should become future faculty leaders in the institution.

Ben Marsh

Department of Geography & Program in Environmental Studies

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    Pete MackeyMay 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Professor Marsh’s portrayal of the University’s Social Media Guidelines (http://www.bucknell.edu/x68141.xml) is inaccurate in several ways, and for the record should be corrected.

    First, despite what he states, these guidelines are not policies and do not claim oversight or authority over personal social media sites. The guidelines are advice, including such suggestions for social media as “Be professional and respectful always” and “Be obvious, honest and transparent.” The guidelines in fact list such advice under the heading “Best Practices,” since the list reflects common notions in social media.

    Second, the only part of the guidelines that is a policy is their reference to the long-standing Appropriate Use Policy on using University technology. Since social media may involve the use of such equipment, we make the relevant stipulations easily available.

    Third, Professor Marsh says the guidelines are a threat to academic freedom. But since the guidelines are advice rather than a requirement, that can’t be correct.

    Fourth, and finally, the guidelines are intended primarily for professional social media presences. But social media can be a tricky space, where the line between public and private opinions isn’t always easy to discern. As experiences at other institutions have shown, visitors to personal social media sites in which we list our professional positions can inadvertently conclude that we are speaking for our department or university. While Professor Marsh suggests that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) does not address this challenge, their perspective is actually instructive, “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/contents/1940statement.htm

    To quote one of many faculty colleagues who wrote us supporting the guidelines, “Good advice.”

    Sincerely,

    Pete Mackey, Ph.D.
    Vice President for Communications
    Bucknell University

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