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Befriending professors, bosses on personal sites may cross the line
Social networking Web sites used to be a place for best friends, childhood accomplices and casual acquaintances.
As technology’s reach grows, however, some students have also connected online with their professors.
As usage of Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook expands to include a variety of social groups from students to business professionals, many educators have also created their own Web profiles, accepting past and present students as friends.
The sites have given professors and pupils a new way to keep in contact after the semester ends.
Mary Hausch, a UNLV journalism professor, has an online profile.
Hausch said she is cautious adding students to her Facebook.
“My personal policy is to not accept students as friends while they are still students,” she said, “although I have made a few exceptions.”
While she has no problem connecting with former students online, Hausch seems to be uncomfortable with the idea of adding her present pupils to her profile.
“You develop conflicts of interest if you start developing friendships with students,” she said. “You can’t help but play favorites and that’s simply not right.”
The idea of requesting a professor as a friend, whether a past instructor or a current one, seems strange to some students.
UNLV junior Chelsea Adams said she has not considered adding an instructor, a boss or any elder figure to her list of friends on MySpace.
“I never even thought of it,” Adams said.
She admitted that she did not think professors would have Internet profiles.
“I thought it was a kid thing,” she said.
Adams believes people over a certain age should not use social networking sites.
She said the sites are specifically aimed toward young people and educators especially should refrain from using them.
“I think of MySpace as being for really younger people,” she said. “I think Facebook is a social networking site for people of all ages.”
Junior Kasey Elliott believes online social relationships and educators’ profiles should not be a cause for concern “as long as there aren’t any [inappropriate] pictures on the [professors'] pages.”
College instructors at some schools have employed networking sites to learn the names and faces of their students.
Endless discussion of the propriety of guidelines allowing faculty to establish profiles on networking sites has led some universities to study the online relationships of professors and their students.
In a 2006 survey by the Georgia Institute of Technology approximately 19 percent of students polled were friends with an instructor on Facebook.
These students’ ratings of the professors were shown to be uninfluenced by the online friendships.
Hausch has expressed to current students that she would “be happy to add them as friends” once they graduate.
“I said, ‘this is why I’m not going to be friends with you and when you’re no longer my student then the relationship can change,’” she said.
She added that she has reconnected with former students using Facebook.
“One of the reasons I’m on Facebook is to connect with UNLV graduates,” she said. “A lot of my former students who are alumni now are on Facebook, and it’s an easy way for me to connect with them.”
Hausch said she takes the fragile relationship between university educators and their pupils into consideration before clicking ‘accept’ on a random friend request from a student.
“For all sorts of reasons it is inappropriate for faculty to be friends with students while there is still that relationship,” she said.
Elliott believes too much fuss has been made about the issue.
“At first, I thought it was weird,” she said. “Now that it’s like everyone has a MySpace. I think it’s fine.”