Interview with The Tweeting Chancellor, Holden Thorp of the University of North Carolina

Welcome to the latest instalment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the world of higher education and scholarly publishing.

This time around it's a bit different with the circumstances being a little unusual. Last week I did a back-of-the-envelope tweet about the Twitter habits of senior academic administrators and my experiences creating a list of those administrators. The uses of social networks in education is an area that really interests me and the habits of those senior administrators was something I'd been wondering about.

Well, my old blogging buddy Stephanie Willen Brown saw the post and tweeted it in her capacity as the head of the UNC Journalism and Mass Communications Library, copying the Twitter handle of Holden Thorp, the chancellor of UNC. Well, to make a long story short, Chancellor Thorp saw the tweet and he and I ended up connecting for a short interview.

I'd like to thank Chancellor Thorp for agreeing to this interview and also props to Stephanie for making the connection.



Q1. When did you start tweeting?

In December of 2010. Here's a blog entry that explains a lot of my interest and approach to Twitter.

(JD: Here's Chancellor Thorp's handle: @chanthorp.)

Q2. What was your initial rationale for getting into the whole social media arena, Twitter especially?

We have a few students who are very interested in higher education - @elizakern, @kkiley, and @cryanbarber. They were putting a lot of interesting student perspectives about events in higher ed on Twitter. I was lurking reading their stuff, because it was less formal than what would end up in the student newspaper, and I thought very insightful. I got tired of typing their names in all the time and decided to set up an account for myself. As described in the blog post mentioned above, I didn't want to set up a phony account.

Q3. How do you decide what to tweet? How do you balance promoting your institution and it's activities with the kind of authentic, personal touch that this kind of platform really requires?

I try to create a balance. Certainly sending out links of positive news about the university or the students is a winner. Innovation is my area so I send out stuff about that and follow a lot of people who write in the area like Steven Johnson, Atul Gawande, Steve Case, Lesa Mitchell, Rick Florida, Dan Pink, Maureen Farrell. I retweet a lot of their stuff. I retweet stuff from the students, but only if I have time to go through the links that are in the tweet carefully. I send out things about our sports teams, but try to stay positive (see below). If I'm at a non-revenue sporting event and there is no other person tweeting, I will live-tweet the game. On the personal side, I send a little bit of stuff about my kids out and a few family events from time to time.

Q4. The Internet can be a bit of a rough and tumble place at times. Have you had any less than wonderful experiences and what's your theory on how to handle such things?

Sports offers a lot of possibilities for getting in trouble on the internet in general, and on Twitter in particular. I sent out a tweet on the day of the Duke-Carolina game that was over the line in kidding Duke students. I shouldn't have done it and I apologized, although I did get a lot of new followers that day. Unfortunately, controversy gets you a lot of attention online and that is a big danger that everyone should be aware of.

Q5. Finally, would you recommend getting on Twitter to other senior academic administrators?

Yes. I cannot think of a better way to stay in touch with the students and understand their perspective. @kstate_pres and @ are both doing a really good job.

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