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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Facebook and the Student-Professor Relationship

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Rob Vischer at PrawfsBlawg asks Would Phil Areeda have been my facebook friend?,

What does FB mean for the professor-student relationship? I’m not talking about whether the law school should use FB as a professional networking venture; I’m talking about what students know about you and what you know about your students. I still base my image of the law school professor on Phil Areeda, who I’m certain would have had me arrested if I had dropped by his office to chat about the weekend. Even when I started teaching at St. John’s, a senior colleague (whose attitude did not, I learned, reflect the prevailing sentiment of the faculty) warned me that, given my age, students would try to become friends with me, and that I should run screaming if any approached me outside class.

Consider the potential pitfalls of this relationship from the student’s perspective. Because law school grading is on a forced curve and typically has such an amplified effect on job prospects, law professors possess an extraordinary amount of power in the professor-student relationship. It’s a bit like being facebook friends with your boss. If your contracts professor were to extend an offer to be facebook friends would you feel comfortable turning them down?

Sam Kamin, in a comment, spots the correct issue and is awarded all the points.

In short, here’s my rule: I will add students on LinkedIn, which is really a networking tool, but I won’t on FB, which is for looking at pictures of peoples’ cats.

Rephrased in a less cat-fixated way, it’s less a question whether one should interact with students but in what capacity. I have very little desire to know what goes on the personal lives of my professors. I wish them to remain somewhat aloof so that I may continue to pretend that they are something more than fallible human beings with facebook profiles while they make decisions that affect my future employment prospects. I prefer cling to a more formal image of austere and exacting judgment that will inspire me to resolve to work harder next semester rather than reading the tea leaves of their facebook statuses to decipher the reasons for such an arbitrary and capricious evaluation.

In sum: in the social media ecosystem Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for business associates and networking and law profs and never the twain should meet.

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2 Responses

  1. PT-LawMom says:

    I could not agree more. Several of my classmates are Facebook friends with one of our professors and I find that more than a little weird. I also find it awkward to hang out with most of them at happy hour, but perhaps that is just me. Networking events and sites are one thing (I, too, have former bosses and even some of the current executive management team at my company on LinkedIn) but Facebook is much more geared to family and friends.

  2. [...] students and profs “friending” on Facebook, I rather expected (on the basis of the usual media handling of the matter) something like this: Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of [...]

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