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When it comes to protecting and ensuring the quality of student life, institutions have a lot on their hands. From moderating and encouraging equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives (EDI), to meeting Title IX compliance laws and promoting public safety on campus, college faculties and staff are held to higher standards. Digital spaces open up campus discourses to a wider audience and renegotiate the nature of student/faculty relationships, which inevitably raises a question: how can universities hold their faculty and staff accountable to a code of conduct in digital spaces?
One of the ways universities can be proactive in preventing these problems is by expanding their code of conduct policy to include social media and enforcing it.
Policy shapes student life, and student life shapes reputation
Universities are often guided by a community compact that sets the standards of academic integrity, honesty, respect, diversity, fairness, and freedom of discourse. Though often signed by all members of a college community, a community compact depends on a top-down approach, relying on faculty, staff, and administrators to embody these values and bring them into student life as vividly and rigorously as possible.
Ensuring that students receive a quality education and an optimal student life experience helps to shape the reputation of an institution. Misconduct amongst staff—be that in public spaces, classrooms, offices, or off-duty spaces—can quickly ruin an institution’s stellar reputation. While colleges often have many policies in place to prevent these various occurrences, what is often missing is a mechanism to handle digital spaces. A robust social media policy can help mitigate potential misconduct at the employee level by extending the community compact into the digital sphere. For institutions that operate entirely online, this may be a non-issue, but as communication during the COVID-19 crisis forces academia to pivot almost entirely to online instruction, enacting institutional values in digital spaces has become all the more poignant.
Policy proactively protects an administration from PR disaster
A robust policy not only benefits campus life—be that online, in person, or both—it functions as a measure of protection, preventing an institution from having to perform crisis management in a highly digitally literate world where scandal is quick to go viral and stoke widespread outrage. A proactive policy means that not only does misconduct have a clear pathway to a solution, it also demonstrates to the wider community that the institution has the administrative agility to handle itself. Proactivity sets a precedent.
So how does a policy do that? An actionable policy for a university consistently defines and documents its process (we like to say that consistency plus policy and documentation equals an actionable process). A well-written policy clearly delineates the scope of “social media”, i.e. what constitutes a post? Additionally, it reaffirms community values by redefining in-person misconduct for digital spaces and similarly outlines an equivalent disciplinary process for infractions. Considerations may extend beyond basic guidelines for acceptable content and include faculty/student relationships online, the use of social media for class-related activities, guidelines for staff that use official university accounts, and other modes of official online communication.
Unfortunately, documentation is where plenty of universities run into a problem. How can an institution consistently and democratically survey social media accounts for thousands of university employees? This type of screening process is a huge undertaking for an HR office, which is likely already working at capacity to maintain rigorous levels of university compliance. The answer is to outsource. In the past few years, social media screening has emerged as an efficient and viable process for streamlining HR’s workflow while simultaneously maintaining school policy. By utilizing a social media screening service, a school can easily screen candidates as a prerequisite for employment as well as oversee current employee’s public social data for the issues that often plague campuses most often: hate speech, violence, and sexual harassment.
Rigorous infrastructure can help ensure success
A solid social media policy means nothing if it cannot be executed as clearly and smoothly as any other university policy. However, the upside of taking on a streamlined, outsourced social media screening process is that the infrastructure works similarly to any other background screening process. As a CRA, Social Intelligence helps colleges and universities institute the necessary protocols such as permissible purpose, disclosures and authorization, plans for adverse action, and a dispute resolution process as mandated under the FCRA.
With the right tools, a social media policy can reshape a college campus by providing the tools to manage inappropriate behavior as soon as it surfaces in a safe, legal, and efficient way. By utilizing social media screening, universities have the potential to better support an optimal learning environment as well as protect their stellar academic reputation.
- Read this post: Social Media Policy and Screening in K-12 Education
- Download our eBook on screening for educators for more tips.
- Check out this case study examining the effects of social media screening in a university system.
Still have questions? We’d love to walk you through the basics.
About the author
Lindsey is an HR content writer and lifestyle blogger.