Friday, August 07, 2009

Ask the Administrator: Social Media and Academic Careers

A new correspondent writes:

With the exponential growth in use of social networking, in what ways do sites such as facebook have an impact on one's professional personna? While fb might be useful for increasing one's social network, is it harmless to one's career? As an experienced administrator, what are your thoughts about fb for the over 40 year-old professional?

For several years now, I've heard variations on “don't use facebook or twitter or myspace or blogger or any social media, lest future employers find you toxic.”

The odd thing is, I haven't seen any of that in any of the searches in which I've participated. I've spent most of this decade in administration, and have literally never seen social media emerge as an issue. (I also haven't seen it emerge for anyone in mid-career.)

I've seen some weird issues. Past criminal convictions, mysterious references, perplexing interview behavior, palpable attitudes of superiority, and even cover letters that apparently rule out the section of the country where my college is located. But I've never seen any form of social media held against a candidate.

Part of that may be generational. It's still unusual for most committees to have many members under forty, so it may be that it just doesn't occur to some people to look. But even when there are cyberliterate youngsters on committees, the subject has never come up.

(I suspect that my own personal case could prove an exception someday. I can imagine some irate faculty getting a hold of some of my musings on tenure and trying to blacklist me in the name of protecting what they consider academic freedom. I hope I'm wrong on that.)

Whether that's due to indifference, to principled respect for free speech, or to a new emerging etiquette around social media, I honestly don't know. (It may also be regional and/or specific to the public sector; I could easily imagine self-consciously culturally conservative institutions in other parts of the country taking a much more restrictive view of such things.) I haven't seen a really good test case thus far, which is kind of surprising at this point.

A few years ago, when the academic blogosphere still had the aura of scary newness about it, I recall a few kerfuffles around the career dangers posed by blogging. On the ground, though, I've seen none of that.

Wise and worldly readers – have you seen somebody's social media presence torpedo their candidacy? Have you seen someone cashiered for what they've written? Or is 'doocing' just sooo 2005?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.