Academic Social Media Tangles: The Evolving Tale of Jennifer Berdahl
An interesting thing is happening to our northern neighbors. Several prominent academics have been asked by their universities to “ix-nay on the talky-say about work-hey”.
Academics are built to gather information, learn, test and improve. Indeed, conversations about our bosses, colleagues, culture and university policy help us to define who we want to become professionally. So not talking about big shake-ups, leadership changes and even professional encounters are really hard. Particularly given that sharing information is so much of what we are about in academics and many professors and trainees now have a presence on social media. But this is not without its hazards.
Last week, Jennifer Berdahl, Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies: Women and Diversity posted a blog about how disappointed she was her university’s president, Arvind Gupta, is leaving after only a year in office. Berdahl used a private blogging platform but clearly states her professional ties. In the post, she praises Gupta’s efforts to address issues of underrepresentation of women and minorities at UBC. Berdahl background in gender studies was in full play as she framed her post discussing how Gupta may have ‘lost a masculinity contest’ sharing links about how advocating for the minorities and women can be professionally damaging.
None of this should have surprised UBC. Berdahl has been an outspoken advocate predating UBC bringing her on as faculty last year. What is surprising is that Berdahl takes her disappointment further with a new post outlining what happened after she blogged about Gupta’s departure. She describes awkward phone conversations and high-tension backroom meetings with her chair, administration and members of the board. While she didn’t share what UCB leadership wanted her to do next, she is told her behavior is contrary to the good of the University.
Which leave me wondering…..
What is the good of the University?
As an academic, I would want to know why Gupta was let go. Especially if his agenda and style were things I admired. If I’m modeling someone’s behavior and they get terminated, I’d like to understand my culture better, recognize a shortcoming and improve my chances at being part of a useful discussion if I’m needed. Ultimately, its scary when people we view as role models fail.
But in the academic world, we often don’t get to know why people are ‘forced out’ or ‘move on’. Maybe Gupta didn’t meet other benchmarks that were essential to his position? Maybe he turned out to be the genius Target customer troll? There are endless possibilities. But most conversations would have abruptly ended with Berdahl being chastised, silence and maybe removing/editing her post. This last post was enlightening as these interventions by administration almost invariably “drop the mic” as it were. I’ve been in academia long enough to know that the silence filled that gap is too often filled by those who have only second, third or no knowledge.
These conversations are really important in finding a place for academic voices. So….
Does this kind of dialogue need to happen to improve the current system
Should university leaders filter and distill changes in governance to allow us to focus on patients, research and teaching?
I’d really appreciate your thoughts! Particularly if you have information about guidelines as you understand them for your presence on social media and how/if your professional advancement has been impacted by your presence on social media.
Note: Like most sites, you’ll need to login to make comments but feel free to use an anonymous email, pseud, or your IRL information. Whatever makes you feel safe and willing to share. Thanks in advance!
Another Note: While I help The Edge for Scholars, my blogs are just my personal voice and do not representing the views of my university, boss or even other folks who helped put together this site.
A Third Note: If you’ve made it to reading the third note, you are a real stickler for references. Good on you