The University of Tampa administrators had to learn a lesson on Thursday, Sept. 8 that they’ve been warning students about for years: Be careful what you post on Facebook. The Financial Aid Office posted Thursday morning, “Attention all Financial Aid Recipients!!! The Financial Aid Office would like to remind you that a drug conviction may affect your eligibility for financial aid. If you have any questions about this please visit us in the Financial Aid Office (PH 427) to speak with your counselor.”
UT’s Facebook page has more than 11,300 fans, meaning more than just current students saw the post.
“Wow. Is this really the kind of thing that happens so frequently we want it announced on the school’s Facebook page?” Alumnus Simos Farrell commented on the post. “What kind of message are we sending about UT?”
Three other people commented on the post, including Cheryl McClurg Zinkievich who said, “Did the arrest even involve UT students? Just because it happened in the neighborhood does not mean we want to associate ourselves with it.”
Both Stephanie Bihr, assistant director of admissions, and Dennis Nostrand, vice president for enrollment, said the post was not connected to any particular incident of a UT student being charged with drug convictions. “It applies to federal funding,” Bihr said. “It doesn’t matter what school, if students find themselves in that situation, their funding is going to be affected.”
Jacqueline LaTorella, director of financial aid, wrote the post. “It was intended to be like a public service announcement … this is a little known financial aid fact, and I thought if I could help give even one student one more reason to avoid taking actions that could get them into trouble, then it would be a good message,” she said.
According to Nostrand, “The intention was to help the students. The Financial Aid [staff] just chose the wrong vehicle to do that. They are very apologetic that they used that medium instead of a global email.”
Nostrand went on to say about the Facebook page, “We generally only put positive things out there.”
Bihr explained that the Facebook page represents the university as a whole. Several faculty members from different departments have administrative access to the page. When they make a post, it is displayed as the University of Tampa rather than an individual or department.
“Sometimes we will have administrators that might not know the etiquette for social media,” she said. “…there’s a little bit of a learning curve when it comes to that, which was just the case with this situation.”
The public information office is working on a “best practices” pamphlet to give each of UT’s Facebook page administrators so they have an understanding of what is appropriate for Facebook and what should be sent out in a global email message or solved on an individual basis with students.
“The reason it wasn’t removed is because the theory with social media is that once it’s out there, it’s out there,” said Bihr. “There’s really no point in taking it down because when you take it down, sometimes it looks worse.”
The rule of thumb of the page’s administrators is that a post should only be deleted if it includes profanity or is inappropriate to the point of offending readers.
“If we had taken it off, we felt that it was going to make people more suspicious of the site rather than us being honest and just leaving it there, even though it was not the appropriate place to put that,” Nostrand said. “They really had good intentions. They wanted to make sure that the students didn’t risk losing any financial aid over even a minor infraction. Even though they didn’t say it was our students, the way it’s on that site, you’d jump to that conclusion.”
“I regret that this message may have given some folks the wrong impression about UT. I myself am an alumna; I am proud [of] UT, our students and their accomplishments,” LaTorella added.
Intended to be just a warning to students, the attention the post received is now a lesson to the administrators of the university’s Facebook page to be mindful of what they post. As Bihr said, “Social media is something new for everyone, so students as well as staff and faculty are still sort of learning what is and isn’t appropriate. Sometimes they have to learn the hard way.”