Catching my breath

The last week or so has been crazily busy.

The biggest news came late yesterday afternoon. I learned that I am one of four finalists to be Bemidji State’s director of communications and marketing. This is the permanent appointment for the position I have been holding on an interim basis since October. I have been hopeful that I would be able to have an opportunity to interview for the position, but it’s a relief to actually have the interview offer now. The interview is an all-day affair on Wednesday the 29th; I am the fourth of the four candidates to interview. It’s a bit disconcerting to realize this could be over in three weeks.

Last Wednesday, I took a trip to Adirondack Coffee in Nisswa, Minn., to meet with our editorial consultant for our alumni magazine. It was a good trip. I still don’t know that I have a good handle on this issue yet; I feel painfully far behind on getting the contract writers off and running, etc. But the meeting was reassuring; the issue is planned out and stories are selected, and some things are already in motion. Stories are due March 16, which is coming up pretty quickly here.

Then last Thursday, I drove to Moorhead and crashed in a pretty sweet hotel room at the Marriott Courtyard Suites. This was in preparation for an all-day training session at Minnesota State, Moorhead on Friday called “The Science of Supervision.” It was a mandatory training session assigned to me by our state system office, and going into it I dreaded it. I spent just over six hours the previous Sunday completing the online component for it, which was painfully boring and not terribly informative; this did not get me in a good place mentally. The training was actually really good; it was overview-level stuff that didn’t attempt to explain everything we as administrators in a state system need to know (which would be impossible in one day, or even one month), but it gave enough of a framework to give us the basics and, more importantly, establish a roadmap for how we could learn answers to questions that might come up with various situations on campus. It really was a good day.

Part of the reason I have been bad about maintaining this blog is when I encounter something during the course of my day at work, I throw it up on Twitter and/or Facebook so I can share it with my friends quickly. I often intend to come back to the blog later to share some of the same things, or to have an ability to respond in a little bit more depth. But what tends to happen is that by the end of the day, I’m exhausted and have forgotten what I posted, etc., and never get back to it. So today I installed a really cool app on my phone called Momento. It combines all of my postings from feeds I can dictate into a “diary” of updates; and I can add other updates just in Momento. It’s a private app, only bringing things in and not pushing them out, which is exactly what I have been looking for.

The first thing Momento reminds me to come here and talk about in more detail is this story from the Minnesota Daily, “From Facebook to court: U defends discipline.” In brief, the University of Minnesota reacted to some Facebook postings from a student who was taking a class involving cadavers; you can get the details in the story. The U punished this student – harshly – for violating the code of conduct for the class. Her grade was reduced to an F, and she was kicked out of school. Now, the case is being heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court; at stake is whether Facebook postings are protected speech, up against a University’s right to pursue conduct violations against students for behavior or actions that take place off campus or, in this case, in the virtual world rather than the real world.

It seems clear that Minnesota dramatically overreacted in this case. This entire situation could have been resolved with a one-on-one meeting with the student, making her aware that the school had seen the posts, was troubled by them, and give her an opportunity to explain and then ask her if she’d mind taking them down. Then remind her of the code of conduct. In short, first communicate and teach. What the U seems to have done here is first react and strike, then try to communicate. But by then, the damage was done – to the student, and to the school when the student — quite correctly, by the way — took the situation to the media. The U forced this situation to become something far more than was warranted, and now they risk losing what could be a significant free speech case in front of the state Supreme Court.

This sort of situation is precisely why I’m working to develop social media guidelines for BSU — not only to provide guidelines and best practices to follow for departments and programs who want to start social media presences, but also to establish a framework for a sensible way to approach responses to things said about those departments and programs on social media by others.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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