Social Networks: A College Professor's Constitutional Right to Privacy

Social Networks: A College Professor's Constitutional Right to Privacy

Social Networks: A College Professor’s Constitutional Right to Privacy

By: Dr. M. L. Witherspoon


The right of privacy refers to the concept that one’s personal information is protected from personal scrutiny and is protected by statutory law

Social networks have eradicated this notion of privacy in the professoriate. Expectations for college professors use to be simply to teach, grade papers, conduct research, and proceed on with their private lives beyond the 30-40 hour work week on campus. Nowadays, interaction with students can become a 24 hour per day commitment if boundaries are not established by professors. Students automatically assume that they are entitled to communicate with professors just as long as they are able to locate them on popular social networking sites like Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Yes, the professoriate by its very nature is considered to be a public occupation; but, college professors are individuals who still deserve the right to privacy. Unfortunately, these privacy issues for professors have extended beyond students. Universities have even made it mandatory for professors to provide online profiles, and in some cases, they are highly encouraged to link their personal social media accounts to certain facets on the university website. Colleagues of faculty have also developed virtual relationships on social networks outside of the university. Many communication outlets have definitely been muddled between stakeholders in academia because of social media. Professors, however, have the right to re-create the peripheries of their respective professional associations again. This exposé outlines significant reasons why professors still have what Sharp (2013) explained as a constitutional right to be left alone.

To reiterate, institutions of higher education suggest that professors link their social networks to other university-related platforms, which can often unmask and endanger their private lives. Social mediums have become so prevalent and intertwined in institutions of higher education that new departments and other professions like Social Media Correspondents have been created to manage these accounts. Universities have threatened and terminated professors due to their digital reputation on social media. Initial hiring practices and/or stipulations for continued employment have included periodic social media background checks on professors. Innumerable incidences of student-professor attacks and deaths have been reported by the media and documented in scholarly publications (Jaschik, 2016; Morgan, 2009; Sher, 2017; Tacopino, 2016; Thomason, 2015). A recent controversy even erupted over privacy violations with Facebook. Facebook was found selling personal information to different companies for corporate gain, which is extremely unsafe for professors. Consequently, students have heightened their use of social media as a stalking mechanism for professors due to similar situations (Morgan, 2009). Google maps can easily zoom in on a college professor’s place of residence if students retrieve the address from social mediums like Facebook. Privacy concerns have even escalated between professors. Professors have been blackmailing each other through these social platforms by taking sketchy sensitive data and threatening to do harm by sharing the evidence with the university. To be nondiscriminatory, professors have also cyberstalked students (Scheinman, 2014). According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 25% of cyberbullying included social networks; and, it is way more common than face-to-face stalking (McVeigh, 2011). Sher (2017) disclosed that professors do not receive adequate support from universities when they have been stalked.

So, this fact and more raises questions about the Clery Act and if the public annual security report (ASR) provides accurate statistics of these growing occurrences of student-student, student-professor, professor-professor, and university-professor cyberbullying crimes via social networks? So, why should professors be involuntarily obliged by universities to share their private versus professional lives with students, colleagues, and the university itself? What can professors do to alleviate these countless concerns? Professors have a legal right to protect themselves and to be protected by universities. For further illustration, professors have the right to teach without being audio and video recorded during class. What professor would like to unknowingly become the next viral sensation on Instagram or Snap Chat? Professors have the right to demand family time back, since being a faculty member is not an on-call position for most disciplines. It has become physically and mentally exhausting with students having access to professors all of the time via social media. Not to mention that office hours have become indistinguishable! A blurb in the syllabus should clearly state that students will not have access to professors on weekends and after certain hours even if messages are left on social networks. Maybe, professors should refrain from accepting colleagues and students on their socially mediated platforms, and directly state that it puts them in an uncomfortable predicament? Maybe, professors should just delete their social media accounts altogether as a form of protection? These examples and more support why college professors have a constitutional right to become private-professionals again without having to face punitive consequences in their careers.



Jaschik, S. (2016, December). Student Fatally Stabs Professor. Inside Higher Ed.

McVeigh, K. (2011, April). Cyberstalking ‘Now More Common’ Than Face-to-Face Stalking. The Guardian.

Morgan, R. (2009, June). Student Stalking of Faculty: Impact and Prevalence. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9, (2), 98-116.

Scheinman, T. (2014, September). Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?. Pacific Standard.

Sharp, T. (2013, June). Right to Privacy: Constitutional Right to Privacy and Law. Live Science.

Sher, A. (2017, July). Ignore at Your Own Risk. Inside Higher Education.

Thomason, A. (2015, April). Student Who Threatened to Kill His Professor Over a Bad Grade Is Arrested. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Tacopino, J. (2016, June). UCLA Student Reportedly Gunned Down Professor Over Grade. New York Post.


Dr. M. L. Witherspoon is a Dissertation Chair for the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies, a member of the Center for Leadership Studies and Educational Research Hub, and a college professor in the communication, education, and research disciplines. 

Feel free to reply here with questions, insights, and additional commentary on this topic.


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