We value academic freedom highly and believe that academics should be allowed to speak openly and freely about a range of topics, including the state of academia. But does (or should) that principle apply to all university staff, orjust academics?Should lecturers and researchers be free to criticise their managers and to discuss their jobs on line without fear of reprisal? (Link to piece I wrote in 2007 - same debate, different platforms) https://t.co/KnBvBBFxOd via @timeshighered— Phil Baty (@Phil_Baty) January 8, 2019
To a degree, I think there is one rule for academics and another for the rest of university staff. During the UCU strike last year, I was tweeting generally about the strike and how "non-academic" staff were too often forgotten in the conversation. I was always careful not to speak specifically about my institution but about the situation faced by university staff generally. I also looked back on my feed and could not find anything negative about my institution nor anything which I felt would create a negative impression of me in my role nor the university I worked for. Nevertheless, I was made to feel that I should be a little more discreet about my tweeting. I wondered whether the same thing happened to my academic colleagues.
Many universities have social media policies, although many still do not (mine doesn't as far as I can find). Regardless, if you are open and public about where you work and are tweeting about academia (whether that is about teaching, research, administration, etc.) I believe that you do represent your institution. I have always tried to take care in what I tweet. Not to the point of self-censorship, but of reputational risk both to myself, my career and my employer.
I was once sworn at publicly on Twitter by an academic. I saw it happen to someone else this week (see previous post). I'm not wading in again to the circumstances of the swearing. This is a question of whether certain sections have more leeway and freedom in what they post. I know that if I publicly swore at an colleague online (even if at different institutions) a number of things might happen:
- It would negatively harm people's perception of me and could harm my future career as employers often look at social media;
- Colleagues from my institution might see it, including managers, and it could be reported and brought up especially if there is a social media policy in place);
- Even if I deleted the tweet, people would still have seen it and we know that people take screenshots.