Professors: The Unwanted Facebook Friend

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on October 6, 2011

Whose Facebook friend request is most likely to annoy and raise suspicion in the minds of college students: their mom’s, their boss’s or their professor’s?

According to a study in the Journal of Education for Business, the answer is their professor’s.

While reactions to a mother’s or boss’s friend request were generally positive, “a considerable number of students agreed they would feel nervous, worried, suspicious, and concerned if they received a friend request from a professor,” reads the report, which included results from a survey of 208 undergraduate business students at an unidentified university in the Midwest. The study suggests that privacy concerns were the reason for the negative reaction, but the surveys themselves didn’t ask students to identify a reason.

The study outlines boundaries for professors to consider as more use social media to distribute class information.

Most professors do not send friend requests to students, says study co-author Katherine Karl, a management professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

However, the report cites an instance when a professor contacted a student via Facebook and got a faster response than when the professor had contacted the student via email. She also notes a prior study that suggested students engage with lesson material posted in Facebook forums more often, and in more complex ways, than they might when the same material is posted on web forums maintained through the school.

“There are a lot of faculty who have the mentality ‘Why not go where the students are?” she says.

As more professors create Facebook groups for their classes, sending students friend requests may seem a logical step. If a professor does decide to "friend" students, Karl suggests they warn them about the possibility in class first, explain why, and remind students that if they choose to accept, they can always adjust their privacy settings. Another suggestion is for professors to keep a passive relationship - accepting students' friend requests but not actively sending them.

Karl's study specifically asked students how they would react to friend requests from their "worst professor" and a professor they didn't know very well. It did not ask students about their "best professor," though Karl says the implications apply to professors across the board, as they may not be able to gauge how they are perceived in the minds of students.

- Erin Zlomek

Reader Comments


December 5, 2011 4:17 PM

As a student, I would say that having a professors "friend" me would be considerably awkward. I have researched academic freedom for professors, and I do not believe that it is appropriate for professors to have outside contact online with their students other than via school email. Faculty must maintain a level of professionalism, which I feel is best achieved if communication online is kept to school emails, not through social networking cites such as Facebook.


December 17, 2011 10:30 PM

Here, as a faculty member, is how I view things. FB I use for the few alumni I consider friends. I also post some class pictures, as it is an easy access point for students.

In social networking, is more appropriate for professors, especially linking to recent alums. It is about professional success. Linkedin generally is about resumes, recommendations, etc..

FB is a bit more of wild west, Linkedin is more about standards.

In the end, each student decides who to "friend", or "link with".

I have created a voluntary site for students to share information, and job leads, across classes. Early feedback is positive, as grads need networks as they move about the country. Voluntary seems to work just fine.

Professionalism, and being Close, are not mutually exclusive. Would you not want Professors helping you succeed in the job hunt, or even after college.

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