David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Poetic Justice For All

April 23, 2014

I have always loved the phrase "poetic justice," the idea that wrong gets punished in ways that elevate our souls in the manner that beautiful poetry does.  As a result, the execution of a killer is not "poetic justice" in my book, as my soul doesn't feel lighter at the moment, only darker because the stain of killing is blood-red no matter what. 

No, true poetic justice almost always occurs when arrogance comes face to face with unexpected consequences.  The more arrogant one becomes, the less thoughtful one becomes regarding decisions.  It is truly "pride coming before the fall."

Why am I waxing eloquent about poetic justice?  I learned of social media usage going horribly wrong for, of all people, the New York Police Department.  The NYPD turned to Twitter for submissions regarding the public's interactions with the police force, and, yes, you guessed it, many of the examples were not flattering.  For the record, I am not a critic of the NYPD, or any police force, but this outcome is so comically predictable, especially when the goal, I am sure, was to try and change the public's perception of the police. 

Linked within this story is a similar scenario that did happen for a group that I can more universally despise:  J.P. Morgan.  Their 2013 request for Tweeted questions in preparation for a Q & A with an executive also went predictably, and horribly, wrong.  Just when I think the general public is a massive army of undead, these responses provide me great hope for the future.   (My favorite response, by the way, is "do your clothes fit better since you don’t have the added weight of a soul? #AskJPM"  Poetic Justice to the finer details of my definition!). 

What does this have to do with higher education, you might ask?  First off, it doesn't have to. Maybe I just want to enjoy true comedy. Maybe I want to mention these just for the joy of sharing poetic justice.  However, I know that more institutions of higher education are turning to social media.  A 2013 Dartmouth study shows that more than half of college presidents use Facebook or Twitter (supposedly in the professional sense; the article implies that).  So I suppose I offer a cautionary tale. 

I'll give the Dartmouth President, interestingly, credit for employing caution at his own institution.  He recently issued a call of action to his campus regarding the "social norms and community standards" on his campus (the usual downsides associated with Greek life--drinking and violence).  In that call to action, he asks for feedback via email, which allows him to avoid any public embarrassment when Joe Delta Kappa Dumbass writes, "More parties, dude.  Stop hasslin' us."  Sadly, he will probably get less feedback overall.  Email is so 20th century.

Nevertheless, I suspect many college administrators are treading into dangerous territory by embracing Twitter and the like.  I can remember seeing on Facebook one institution's request that its housing students provide questions ahead of time before a president's visit.  I chuckled at the thought of how that could go south in a hurry. In the long run, I don't think a single question was posted.  And maybe apathy in that situation is the greatest poetic (in)justice?  I am reminded of The Monkees' song (did I really just write that?) about Kings Zor and Zam:  they gave a war and nobody came.  Maybe there really is no such thing as bad publicity.