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SMC professors access personal messages

Liz Harter and Megan O'Neil | Wednesday, April 5, 2006

In early March, Saint Mary’s senior Angela Rizzo posted the following message on her Facebook.com profile.

“To my nursing faculty secretly trying to spy on us … posing as students on Facebook – ya found me!! I’m not as interesting as you’d think … No secrets here!! You guys should start asking us to be your friends … make it into a joke, please …”

The disclaimer came in response to a lecture she and fellow nursing majors received from nursing department chair Linda Zoeller earlier this semester on unacceptable Internet postings. Rizzo said staff members never mentioned Facebook specifically, but she and her classmates immediately thought of the popular Web site.

“I had no idea professors could be on Facebook at all … that was a real shock to me,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo said the lecture left her feeling guilty. She logged on to her profile to check if it contained any postings or photographs that could be deemed inappropriate and activated the site’s option to restrict who could view it. She discovered that Zoeller and several other professors were listed, some as undergraduates.

“The first week everyone was mad … I know of girls who took all of their pictures off Facebook. It kind of ruined it because facebook was a fun way to keep in contact with friends,” Rizzo said.

Her intention, Zoeller said in an e-mail Tuesday, was to alert students to the fact that sites such as Facebook and Myspace.com are easily accessible.

“For example, some of the senior nursing students are applying for graduate school and others are applying for professional nursing positions throughout the country,” Zoeller said. “It was important to let them know that Facebook and Myspace are essentially open to that audience, including their potential grad school or their next employer.”

Students were encouraged to reexamine what sorts of personal information and images they displayed on the Internet, Zoeller said, and whether it made them vulnerable to predators.

“I have to believe that some of the students really had not thought about it this way,” Zoeller said. “Now they have another perspective from someone who cares about them as individuals and about their safety.”

Junior Irene Bayudan first heard some professors were accessing student’s profiles from a friend. Although she does not feel she is being targeted in any way, Bayudan said, she nevertheless views it as an invasion of privacy.

“I’m contemplating pulling out my whole profile now because it’s reaching the extent that it is,” Bayudan said. “It’s not fun anymore. To know that employers are looking at it and people are making judgments on you based on your pictures.”

Students’ concerns about faculty and staff members’ use of Facebook has caught the attention of student government officers. It was briefly discussed at the Feb. 27 Board of Governance meeting and was addressed directly this past weekend at the student government retreat.

Student activities director George Rosenbush said Monday she does not have time to browse Facebook but is aware of the sort of content some students choose to upload. She advised those on the retreat to be cautious with the information and images they make available on the internet.

Students are “misleading themselves” if they believe Facebook is a secure forum, Rosenbush said. Further, they are taking “a risk” when they include inappropriate content by jeopardizing future employment opportunities.

“I want them to be able to present themselves in the light they want, and to be careful,” Rosenbush said.

Senior Alicia Heimann said she was not surprised that non-students were accessing student profiles because anyone with an “.edu” address can register on Facebook. She said she has nothing to hide from her professors and was not overly concerned about their use of the site.

“I don’t think they’re doing it for punishment reasons. I think they’re doing it overall as concern for us as a person … that and curiosity.” Heimann said.

What she does on the weekends should be of little interest to her professors, freshman Lauren Mangiaforte said. She also does not want to know how they spend theirs.

“I feel like Facebook is more of a social network than it should be a phonebook and I don’t want to Facebook my professors,” Mangiaforte said.

Facebook can’t be taken too seriously, freshman Lauren Momenee said.

“You can’t make judgments on what you see on Facebook because a lot of it’s [a joke],” she said.

Junior Nicole Korte is relatively unconcerned that professors or future employers may attempt to look her up on the Internet.

“I think it is ridiculous. People need to find something better to do. I’m not really concerned about it.” Korte said.

Rizzo said she found it ironic that employers are prohibited from asking questions about religion or family in interviews, but can scope out future employees on sites such as Facebook. She called this a “huge” invasion of privacy.

She and classmates originally thought faculty members had accessed Facebook only once, Rizzo said, but later realized they have logged on multiple times – some as recently as two weeks ago. Students respect faculty members who have chosen not to create profiles, she said.

“[Professors] should not make comments to students and they should not make judgments on students based on Facebook,” Rizzo said.