Faculty on Facebook Conflicted About Befriending Students

The next time you sign onto Facebook, you might be surprised to see a friend request from your Math or English teacher. Some Phillips Academy faculty members have created Facebook accounts and “friended” students. Alana Rush, Assistant Director of Community Service, created her Facebook account in college, when Facebook was still new. She has remained an active member since. Rush said that she sometimes “friends” current students. However, she keeps them on a limited profile until they graduate even though she said she has nothing on her Facebook that she would feel uncomfortable sharing. “I utilize Facebook friendships with students just as I would utilize Facebook friendships with friends from college [or] family members,” Rush wrote in an email. “Facebook is the way I keep in touch with most of my ’08 students as well.” According to Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, Andover does not have an official policy regarding Facebook friendships between faculty and students. Suzanne Buckwalter, Head of the Math Department, said that she would not friend current students as Rush does. Buckwalter said, “[Facebook] is very good as a social networking program, but talking about current students, there’s a line there that shouldn’t be blurred. I would not do social networking with students.” Rush wrote that she does not worry about finding uncomfortable or embarrassing content on Facebook because, in almost two years of Facebook friendships with Andover students, she has never encountered anything that she would consider inappropriate. But Murphy said that he has. Murphy wrote in an e-mail, “I have seen some inappropriate content from some recent graduates and I informed them I could not be their friends due to the content—not because it offended me, but because it is such a dumb idea given their own futures. I know of people who have not been offered jobs because of their Facebook pages.” Buckwalter said that if she spotted inappropriate content on a student’s Facebook profile, she might act on it “because it would be like having inappropriate content on your dorm door. But I believe lot of teachers don’t go on Facebook for that reason—to give the students a bit of private space.” Murphy created his Facebook account to better understand the online phenomenon that was gripping so many Andover students. “I got the account some time ago but did not really do much with it until last spring, when I knew I would be in this job and did really need to know how it worked, what were the parameters of behavior, why it was so addictive,” wrote Murphy. Murphy has decided neither to friend current students nor accept their friend requests on Facebook. However, Murphy is Facebook friends with some Andover graduates. “For me, Facebook has become a place where grads from past years have ‘found’ me and we have reconnected because of it. I have also gone looking for old friends and have found them there,” wrote Murphy. The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library staff was among the first of Andover faculty to use Facebook to help students with research and notify them of library services, said Jeffrey Marzluft, Associate Director of the OWHL. The library created a profile under the name of Sara Ciaburri, Instructional Librarian, as well as a Facebook group. Marzluft said, “We always had about 120 friends, which is 10 percent of the student population. We always managed to maintain that amount.” Marzluft said the library does not use the account often anymore because it was difficult to maintain as an organization. The library wrote on its Facebook profile, “We are not here to read your profiles and look for inappropriate content. We are here to bring the information you need to a space you already belong to!” “Librarians were the first people to adopt Facebook at universities as a way to meet students where they are. Where are students? They are on Facebook,” said Marzluft. “We want to be there so students are doing good research, not necessarily using Google.” Most adults in the Andover community do not have Facebook accounts because they did not grow up in an era of online social networking. Catherine Carter, Instructor in Latin, said, “When Facebook started, it was only for current college or high school students—or at least that’s what I understood. I’ve never really gotten past the suspicion that I’m not the target audience.” Last year, Student Council held a meeting with faculty to explain the features of Facebook. Tantum Collins ’08, last year’s Student Body President, showed his Facebook profile to faculty to explain the site’s security measures and general functions. The meeting pleased teachers who previously feared the dangers of Facebook, such as online stalking and predators. Buckwalter said, “I was very reassured about what the Student Council members presented to us.” “I am on Facebook because I think it’s convenient, fun, easy to use and a great way…to keep track of where my friends are and what they’re up to,” wrote Rush. “The fact that my students are also on Facebook just makes it easier for all of us to stay in touch.”