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The social university

By Jen Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 13, 2013

LSA sophomore Jeremy Jones updates his Twitter daily. Within his 22,763 tweets, he comments on everything from his new economics class to the first birthday of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s baby, Blue Ivy.

Over winter break, Jeremy received a tweet from @umich, the University’s main account. In response to his tweet asking to return to the University already, @umich responded: “We’re ready for you! Hope you’re enjoying your break.”

“Being that that’s our school, it shows that they are really connected and unified their students through social media,” Jones said. “I’m really happy that my school actually views my tweets and actually knows what’s going on.”

Jones received responses from the University’s Twitter account two additional times as well.

With different Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and LinkedIn accounts, Jeremy said he established his social media presence “to have a voice.”

As one of hundreds of millions of people flocking to these social media platforms, Jeremy recognizes his new place in the global conversation through social media.

Creating an off-campus, online campus community

Social media, more specifically Twitter, creates a quasi-Greek agora, or gathering space, for the modern world, according to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a University alum who spoke at Rackham Auditorium in November.

“We once again start to see multiple perspectives on a particular news story or event that’s happening,” Costolo said in his presentation. “We once again start to have a shared experience across the globe about what’s happening and what we’re viewing now. We once again get an unfiltered perspective of what’s happening. But, at the same time, it complements all these traditional forms of broadcast media.”

With easily accessible forums, like Twitter and other social media platforms, people can witness and express reactions, personal thoughts and beliefs with a click of the mouse or a tap of the finger. With Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest and several Twitter accounts, among other social media platforms, the University attempts to keep up with this technological trend.

To manage this new, social media venture, the University hired Jordan Miller to fulfill the new director of social media position last February. But Miller — working under Lisa Rudgers, the vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives — resigned in December under allegations that parts of her resume had been falsified.

Prior to her resignation, Miller said in a March interview that she hoped to establish the University as a national leader in the use of social media.

“In the same way that the University is a top school in so many other ways, we can and should be a ground-breaker and a thought-leader in social media,” she said. “We should be a school that other schools can look to and say ‘That’s how the University of Michigan’s doing it. They’re doing it right and that’s how we should be doing it too.’”

Between February and December, Miller curated the “University of Michigan Social Media” platforms and social profiles.

In addition, she launched the @umichstudents Twitter account in July, which is hosted by a different University student every week. The idea was generated from a conversation among Miller, Rudgers and several Twitter executives, including Costolo.

Miller said in July the student Twitter handle aimed to give a voice to students in the same way social media gives a voice to the University’s administration.

“You shouldn’t hear only from the administration — you should hear right from the students,” she said.

According to the Facebook, Twitter and the Philanthropy 400 Quarterly Results from July to Sept. 2012, the University holds the fifth most Facebook likes for colleges and universities with 457,000 likes in 2012 with a 4.6-percent growth rate.

Currently, the @umich Twitter handle has more than 31,000 followers and the University has more than 470,000 Facebook likes.

In March, Mashable.com, a website devoted to discussing digital innovation, named the University the fourth most social media-savvy university, showing how Michigan has established a prominent presence in higher education social media.

Josh Pasek, an assistant professor who teaches a Communication Studies class this semester titled “Social Media and Politics,” said the University needs someone to facilitate the social media across campus.

“A University as large as Michigan needs to coordinate its message across a variety of sources, and I think that there’s no question that today social media are important,” he said. “There has to be someone that acts as a liaison for different public affairs, news for the University and the University’s social media network.”

In a blog post on Jan. 14, Rudgers examined the growth experienced in the past year of social media at the University and why it’s important.

“Social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate with one another and with our stakeholders,” Rudgers wrote. “It’s time for us to stop treating it as an add-on, as if social media activity is a superficial or insubstantial diversion.”

The social media reveal

After Reddit user citizenthrowawayx posted documents that appeared to confirm allegations about Miller’s resume, Miller resigned from her position. Miller left Columbia College Chicago in fall 2003, with only a few credits short of a diploma, though she said she believed she had enough credits for a complete degree.

“My intention was never to deceive anyone, but in light of this mistake, I believe it’s in the best interest of the university that I resign,” Miller wrote in an e-mail statement to her friends and colleagues on Dec. 11, obtained by the Daily.

In a statement released on Dec. 10, Rudgers expressed her sadness due to the situation.

“I appreciate all the talent and insight Jordan Miller brought to elevating the University’s social space,” Rudgers wrote. “Her work has been stellar, and she has established a solid foundation from which to build and grow. My thoughts and best wishes are with her.”

The next day, Rudgers relayed the details of Miller’s resignation and job availability to Scott Monty, the global head of social media at Ford Motor Company, and Costolo, one of Twitter’s CEOs — e-mails also obtained by the Daily through the Freedom of Information Act.

“I hope she lands on her feet somewhere soon — I wanted you to hear the situation,” she wrote in her e-mail to Monty.

Miller’s former colleague Jeff Rushton, the director of Digital Media at the University of Louisville, said he believes Miller will have no trouble finding another job. He added that in his experience in the social media industry, continuing on in the field without a degree shouldn’t be too difficult.

“If you’ve spent your career doing these things like Jordan, you tend to have a more strategic outlook than those people who just use social media,” he said. “I know that people can be very successful in social media without a degree, but obviously in her position at Michigan, she probably needed one.”

In 2010, Miller was a member of the Digital Media in Higher Education organization, curated by Rushton. Rushton started the group with the digital director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to collaborate with university-wide social media strategists.

In an e-mail Rushton wrote to Rudgers in December after Miller resigned, he wrote that Miller was someone he called for “ideas and suggestions” while she was at the University.

“I’m sorry for the loss, some of our group members emailed me about it today,” the e-mail said. “My heart sank, for both of you.”

Social media serves as a platform for universities to provide instant information and to advertise, according to Rushton. He began his current position in 2010 as the first, and only, staff member to manage Louisville’s Twitter and Facebook account. Similarly to Miller’s former post, Rushton controls the social media environment at Louisville.

Before he began the position, Louisville depended on the deans of certain departments and schools to create their social media. Rushton stepped in to control Louisville’s social media as a whole.

“I am an army of one,” Rushton said while describing his position. He added that other universities, including some Ivy Leagues, usually only involve one person to take control of social media.

How did we miss this?

“Why did you not verify Jordan Miller’s educational credentials when she applied for the $100,000 salary director of social media position? … Will you verify the education credentials for your next hire for this position?”

Patrick Host, a freelance higher education reporter based in D.C., e-mailed Rudgers these questions, among others, after Miller’s resignation about the details surrounding her hiring in early 2012.

At the University, each new job opening is posted on umjobs.org where applicants submit their resumes and basic application materials, according to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. Though each department and specific position undergoes a unique interview and employment process, they all involve a background check.

When asked how the University may have missed Miller’s false statement that she has a diploma on her resume, Fitzgerald said this was “a very unusual set of circumstance. This doesn’t happen often at all.”

Fitzgerald said in an earlier interview that the University plans to post the position in the near future. However, he said there are no anticipated changes to the process of background checking.

Social media as a truth teller

While social media allowed Miller to give a voice to the University community, ultimately another voice spoke back to reveal the falsehood of her resume.

The Internet operated as its own “background check,” displaying the power of an online voice as Miller resigned after the allegations.

Prof. Pasek said the accessibility of social media leads to both accurate and false information.

“What you get looking at a social media stream is some really accurate stuff that you might pick up anywhere else, as well as a bunch of things that are really inaccurate,” Pasek said.

But the irony in Reddit exposing a social media director’s mistake shows how the online voice can have a mind of its own.