When a tornado hit St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C. last month, Roman Caple, a senior close to graduation was among many students concerned about returning to a campus without power and with fallen trees. Roman, the first among his extended family to graduate from college, expressed that concern on his Facebook page. School officials reacted and barred him from attending his graduation May 1. The media and students were shocked and particularly with the following statement: “As written in our Code of Conduct, Saint Augustine’s College students are expected to support the College’s mission. The College reserves the right to take appropriate actions when student conduct conflicts with the institutional mission.” More bad publicity followed and a public relations nightmare continues.
St. Augustine’s is among thousands of colleges and universities not coping with the new world of social media networking. Many organizations solve a Facebook or Twitter “problem” by firing an employee or, in this case, penalizing a student to teach a lesson. Not only is there negative publicity, employees and students are unclear as to what is or isn’t accepted.
I recently wrote about the importance of corporations – with management and employee representation – to create social media employee guidelines. Student and faculty guidelines for an educational institution also are a necessity. No guideline is going to be perfect but by harnessing the power of students, faculty, alumni and others, social media can be a friend not an enemy.