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Facebook ‘friending’ a tough pill to take for pharmacy professors

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A new study in the Ohio State College of Pharmacy said 100 percent of professors who responded would not send a Facebook friend request to current students.

Senior author of the study, Jim McAuley, an associate professor of pharmacy practice and neurology, said he accepts friend requests from students, but does not send them.

“I don’t think that it is very fair for me to reach out to a current student in one of my classes,” he said. “If I ask one student, then I should ask every student so that there is a fairness perspective. So I don’t reach out to current students.”

McAuley said about half the respondents in the study owned a Facebook profile and half of those professors said they would gladly accept a friend request from a student, including himself.

“If a student requests, I’m not going to turn them away,” McAuley said. “We just had a student-faculty night out in the College of Pharmacy not long ago and the students organized an event. … They told faculty to invite their families so it was a social gathering. I don’t really view that a whole lot different than being friends with a student on Facebook. They get to meet my family and my family gets to meet them.”

Another author of the study, Kristen Finley Sobota, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Ohio Northern University, said the first request a professor receives from a student often dictates what the professor’s Facebook philosophy will be.

Sobota said the professor will usually leave the request pending for a while to think about it. Sometimes professors will seek the help from colleagues to get their advice. Anne Metzger, an assistant professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati, struggled with this and is now one of the authors on the study.

“(Metzger) asked me ‘Jim, how do you respond to a student that asks for friendship on Facebook?’ I gave her my opinion; I then thought that it would be interesting to figure out how other faculty would respond to those types of questions,” McAuley said.

The study was conducted across several pharmacy programs in Ohio and found that about half the professors said they would accept a Facebook friendship request from a student, but they would give students limited access to their profile.

“I don’t think there is anything that I would post that is unprofessional, that’s just my demeanor,” McAuley said. “There probably are some (professors) out there that want to keep things more at a distance.”

Timothy Ulbrich, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice from Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, joined McAuley, Metzger and Sobota to send surveys to 183 full-time professors of pharmacy at the four different schools.

The survey received 95 responses. Among the responses, 44 professors said they owned a Facebook profile, 51 did not. The study also said the longer the professor has been a faculty member, the less likely they were to have a Facebook.

Ryan Martin, a second-year in pharmacy, said he has never received and will never accept a friend request from a professor.

“I don’t really want my teachers to get involved in my personal life.”

McAuley said sending a friend request to a current student could be inappropriate.

“I have reached out to former students, so graduates, alumni, etc,” McAuley said. “A current student, I personally think it is inappropriate.”

McAuley said he does not currently use any social-networking tools such as Twitter or Facebook in the classroom. However, he does think these websites have the ability to enhance the teaching experience.

“I look at Facebook occasionally during the week. I look at what students have posted when it is in my news feed,” McAuley said. “It will be interesting to see if there are ways that we can bring Facebook in the classroom to help learning occur.”

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