Rob Vischer of Prawfsblawg has joined the ranks of law professors concerned about the ethics of facebook friendship with their students:
What does FB mean for the professor-student relationship? I'm not talking about whether the law school should use FB as a professional networking venture; I'm talking about what students know about you and what you know about your students. I still base my image of the law school professor on Phil Areeda, who I'm certain would have had me arrested if I had dropped by his office to chat about the weekend....
And now what have I become? Going out with students for a beer, fielding a flag football team, and playing basketball with students has always made me an enthusiast for the friendship that dare not speak its name, but now I've taken it to another level -- I'm FB friends with my students. I'm all up in their business, and they're in mine. Is it wrong? Is it a concern? Do any other faculty FBers deny student friend requests? Do you keep them on a separate friend list with more limited access to your page? At least for me, the notion of keeping a mysterious distance between students and myself was a non-starter, but have I (or my students) lost something in the process?
I commented on these issues in this post last year, responding to an earlier post by legal scholar Gene Koo. I still think that there is no problem with Facebook friendships between professors and students. It's a far from intimate relationship, to put it mildly. Of course, I don't put any extremely intimate or private material on my Facebook page; people who can see it are not "all up in [my] business." They just know a few basic facts about my work, background and interests. Putting much more than that up on Facebook is unwise for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with academic ethics.
Students who see my Facebook page probably don't know as much about me as those who stop by my office regularly to talk about law, policy, or baseball. If the latter is a permissible form of student-faculty interaction, so too is Facebook "friendship."