Professors do not agree to become the subject of scrutiny and speculation by virtue of teaching.
The Internet has made it incredibly easy to access a plethora of personal information about absolutely anyone. With the majority of the U.S. population on Facebook, it is highly likely that you can find your classmates, colleagues and even your college professors on it or any number of alternative social media sites. But should you really go looking for them?
As students, we are normatively obligated to fill the social role of the pupil in our classrooms. Professors earn our respect before we even step foot in the classroom because they have knowledge we don’t and are in a position of authority to share that knowledge with us.
Outside of the classroom, we ought to respect them as private individuals, because they are exactly that.
Intentionally searching out our professors on social media accounts and researching their interests is a direct invasion of their privacy both as a professor and a private individual. Unless they accept your friend request or follow you back, they have not consented to you prying into their personal lives.
There are plenty of cases where people have been fired for what they post on their social media accounts based on the premise that social media is a public space. Perhaps there is some truth to that.
However, the difference between those cases and the case of students and teachers is interest. Employers have a vested and legitimate interest in making sure their employees don’t act in way that reflects poorly on the company. That interest is deemed to be sufficient to overcome the employees right to privacy. In right-to-work states like Oklahoma, people can and have been fired for getting obtrusive tattoos or piercings because of how it would reflect on the company.
As students we don’t have a legitimate interest. What could we want to know about our professors that would impact our education enough to outweigh the professor’s right to privacy?
Their political views? If a professor makes an argument in their lecture that you think might be politically biased, then you already have the freedom to challenge them on based solely on the merits of their argument. There is no need to delve into their personal life to notice and challenge political views.
Opinions that could make students feel uncomfortable? Unless a professor expresses that opinion in the classroom or in earshot of you or another student it isn’t your business. If you do hear them say something offensive by all means report them, but don’t go digging for it.
No one can force you not to look up your professor on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, but please don’t.
And if you happen across one of your professors on a dating app or accidentally run into them in a potentially embarrassing situation, there is absolutely no need to share it with the rest of the class.
It boils down to this, respect your professors by respecting their privacy.