I’m a newbie in our university’s Faculty Senate. During my almost thirty years as a faculty member, I’ve always managed to avoid being elected/selected/drafted as a Senator. But last fall, my number came up. I think I failed to respond to an email from them: “If you don’t say no, then you are a Senator.”
Oh well. I actually started thinking it could be interesting and maybe even fun– despite dire warnings of comrades who had served. “You haven’t lived until you‘ve sat through an hour-long discussion of new bylaws for the Committee on Committees,” was one comment.
At my second Senate session, just before adjournment, a discussion began on why Senate activities and sessions are seemingly ignored by just about everybody on campus…and often by Senators themselves. “Why aren’t people watching the live video stream of the sessions?” whined one Senator. That’s when I gathered my nerve, and spoke up for the first time on the Senate floor. I suggested that we start using Twitter to communicate fast-breaking news about Senate activities. The idea was greeted by nervous laughter and whispers. Feeling a little more confident, I continued. “Twitter has become a very powerful means of communication. Look how it brought down several governments in the Middle East,” I said. More nervous laughter.
A few minutes later, we adjourned. As I was leaving the room, I overheard our University President say to a colleague, “You know, it would be an inexpensive way to see what people are thinking.” Armed with that endorsement, I wrote a follow-up email to our Faculty Senate President making a more formal pitch for him to sanction Twitter as a new and timely means to open, transparent dialog with our community. I used words like “interactive”, and “participatory” and phrases like, “staying connected, current and vital.” I also mentioned that it’s not like I —or anybody else for that matter– needed the Faculty Senate’s permission to tweet, but nonetheless I would be happy to hear what he had to say about the idea.
A few days later I received an invitation to meet and discuss Twitter with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. Yikes! Only one month as a Senator, and already I am being called before the Star Chamber. They wanted “an explanation of how you envision the Faculty Senate using Twitter for communicating with faculty… as many of the EC members are not familiar with Twitter.”
OK. Seemed harmless enough. So I spent about 25 minutes helping the committee understand Twitter. As you’d probably guess, their biggest concern was how to control inappropriate or inflammatory tweets. I explained that Twitter wasn’t something they could control. They can’t “edit” or block tweets. It’s a self-policing system. If snarky posts did occur, the reaction is similar to behavior in the bird world: the unwelcome crow gets mobbed by the sparrows and flees. Welcome to the 21st Century. Again, more nervous laughter.
I left the meeting unclear on where they stood. But to their credit, the next agenda for the Senate contained the following brief note:
Follow the Faculty Senate on Twitter – #OSUFacsen
The OSU Faculty Senate invites Senators and all others—both on and off-campus—to connect and share their thoughts, concerns and ideas on the activities of the Senate using Twitter. You can follow senate activity at #OSUFacsen.”
So, now we’ll see what happens…if anything. It’s a classic case study of how an organization can be unaware of social media, like a fish oblivious to the water around it. Will Twitter make the senate more vital and involved? Will Senators rise to the bait and tweet their observations, concerns and…. heaven forbid…rants? Or perhaps an even more disturbing question: “What’s the sound of one person tweeting?”
To find out, stay tuned to further adventures of #OSUFacSen. (Note: The next OSU Faculty Senate meeting is Thursday, May 8th at 3pm.)
OSU Faculty Senator
Learning Technology Leader
Oregon State University
Extension & Experiment Station Communications
Twitter & AIM: hinojosu