Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Is it just me or have universities become more intrusive in what they require employees to report?  So far I've had to complete ANCRA training (this is new) and fill out a disclosure of non-university activities that could create a conflict of interest (this has been around for quite a while).  I'm anticipating in the near future having to do the Ethics training.  At least I don't have to do the time reporting, since I'm only working 25% time.  But I do wonder what will be next on the reporting front.

Before getting to that let me note that in my class students had to blog about opportunism and come up with a scenario where the possibility for opportunism was there but where the person (possibly themselves) refrained from taking advantage of the situation.  We will discuss their posts later this morning.  The canonical economics example of opportunism is the "snake oil salesman"  (for a latter day example think originators of sub-prime loans) and, hence, there is an element of deceit in opportunistic behavior.  This provides the source of my title.

But, of course, the title is meant as a play on words.  It occurred to me while reading this piece from today's Chronicle, about Northern Illinois University and its new reporting requirements for staff about their use of social media.  If I'm like most, people there will be both a rational and a visceral reaction to the piece.  The rational reaction is that institutional auditors do have a job to do in identifying potential liability for the institution.  But they should not have the last say on how the institution addresses that, as there may be competing "upside" risks that don't concern the auditor but should be of concern to other campus leaders.  In this case, the article is about the potential chilling effect that such regulation will create, dampening the creativity and enthusiasm of engaged staff who are doing effective work in getting the message out to their respective audiences.

I asked myself what I'd do if my campus adopted the same requirement.  Then I got quite angry.  The requirement treats staff as if they are children.  Doing that is infuriating.  When I'm angry, I respond in kind.  Were we to require completion of such a form here, I would lie on it.

Near the end of the piece Steven McDonald, who used to speak here at the Faculty Summer Institute when I was the head facilitator, gives what seemed to me a sensible view that there needs to be an education effort about what the institutional goals are for communication via social media.  In theory, that sounded like the right answer.

In practice, I'm much less sure.  Real education is labor intensive and if not well done can achieve much the opposite of what is intended.  Massmails won't do the trick.  Further, some behavior is so ingrained at this point (e.g., people having Facebook open while they are at the office) that if the institution seems to condemn that behavior it possibly will experience quite a backlash from the staff.

Sometimes leaving well enough alone is optimal.  Certainly, it is an option to consider.

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