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Perlman's tweets signify changing times on campuses
University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken writes a regular blog (top), while University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman has recently started Tweeting on Twitter. (Screen shots)

All the cool kids are Twittering.

First Husker hoops coach Doc Sadler signed on. Then football coach Bo Pelini.

And now, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman has joined the tweeting masses.

That's right: The decidedly un-stuffy Perlman issued his inaugural tweet - "Hi I'm online with Twitter" - on Wednesday after his staff helped him get set up with the popular micro-blogging Web site.

(Of course, this came only after an important discussion on what Perlman's Twitter nickname should be. Staff tossed around a number of ideas, including "BigRedBoss," before settling on the less irreverent "Harvey_Perlman.")

Clearly getting the hang of things, the chancellor followed up Thursday with a more tantalizing tweet: "Heading home after interesting day. 'Interesting' day means its part of my job but I can't share the details."

And then: "I feel like I'm being followed. Is that common on twitter?"

As of Friday afternoon, Perlman's Twitter page (twitter.com/harvey_perlman) had attracted 38 "followers," or fellow Twitterers who sign up to receive his updates.

It may take him a few days to catch up to Pelini's 4,009 followers, or Sadler's 1,464, but Perlman's joining Twitter is yet more evidence social networking is no longer just for college students.

College officials across the nation, in fact, are discovering that sites like Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools for recruiting, networking and connecting with the public.

And the use of social-networking sites has become a critical topic of discussion in academia as faculty and administrators weigh how best to capitalize on the Web phenomenon without compromising their professionalism.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the nation's leading source of news in academia, in April declared Twitter "a global faculty lounge," with many opportunities to "pick up some great higher-education gossip, track down colleagues to collaborate with, or get advice on how to improve your teaching or research."

"Hordes" of faculty and administrators have signed up for Twitter, The Chronicle said, and "some are downright addicted."

Perlman hasn't quite reached that point, joking he doesn't plan to take the time to tweet the mundane details of his daily life.

Instead, he said: "It's another way that I can connect with people and let people know about what I'm doing and what the university's doing."

Other UNL departments, too, have signed onto Twitter, such as the University Libraries, plant sciences, the Scarlet newsletter and more.

UNL News Manager Kelly Bartling has been tweeting campus updates - daily events, news briefs and "news you can use" items like UNL's response to the swine flu outbreak - for about nine months.

"(Twitter) is just another tool to communicate with specific audiences and individuals," Bartling said. "Anything that I can use or do to share stories about interesting things happening at the university, that's what I'm going to do."

NU leaders are experimenting with other ways to communicate as well. NU President J.B. Milliken has been blogging (nebraska.edu/jbblog) since December on topics like affordability, the university's budget, financial aid and, most recently, a State of the University address.

Regent Randy Ferlic of Omaha has dipped into Twitter, though he's tweeted just once: "I'm going to go to bed."

And some faculty have joined Facebook to broaden their professional profiles.

"My job is to do outreach to faculty and students. I thought this would be a good platform for that," said Anchalee "Joy" Panigabutra-Roberts, an assistant professor in University Libraries.

Facebook has proved an efficient method of connecting with colleagues, Panigabutra-Roberts said. She once used the site to line up a speaker for Asian Heritage Month, a poet from Minnesota whom she'd met at a book release and stayed in touch with through Facebook.

"It's definitely a good way to network," she said. "But you have to feel comfortable."

Social-networking sites have their potential drawbacks. Twitter recently shut down an account claiming to be authored by the president of the University of Texas at Austin but was actually written by editors of the school's student humor magazine.

And faculty who connect electronically with students face potentially thorny questions about objectivity in evaluating the students' work.

That's why Sue Burzynski Bullard, an associate professor of news-editorial journalism, doesn't initiate Facebook "friendships" with current students.

"That would be awkward and, frankly, inappropriate," said Burzynski Bullard, who uses the site to stay in touch with family, colleagues and former students.

Intrigued by the idea of rapidly sharing news and information, Burzynski Bullard also has begun Twittering.

She doesn't share mundane details like what she had for lunch. Instead, Burzynski Bullard (twitter.com/suebb) tweets about the news industry.

From a copy editors conference in Minneapolis, for instance, Burzynski Bullard tweeted so those who couldn't attend could still pick up tips. Aware many of her followers are students, she also tweets about, say, an upcoming Web chat about landing jobs, guidelines for a polished resume and essays or columns about the future of journalism.

Beyond that, Burzynski Bullard said, she often learns of breaking news on Twitter.

"More and more I'm finding things out on Twitter first, to be honest with you," she said. "It's almost like a tip sheet."

Still, the 140-character limit for tweets isn't enough to replace true journalism, she said.

"It's not a replacement for traditional news sources," she said. "But it's certainly an additional tool."

Reach Melissa Lee at 473-2682 or mlee@journalstar.com.

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