Professors on Film

Last week, I gave grand rounds at a small hospital in Northern California, and they filmed it for medical staff who couldn’t attend in person. A few days later I attended a drug policy conference where every talk and every comment from the floor was filmed. My university has a deal with YouTube to post many lectures for whoever wants to watch them. Any student at any university can video lectures on a cell phone or laptop videocam. My working life, and those of my colleagues, is increasingly going straight to video.

I can see the upsides: Progressively cheap technology frees audiences from the constraints of time and location. If you have a surgery scheduled during grand rounds, no problem, you can watch it later when you have time. More importantly, a kid in Cairo who gazes mesmerized at the stars and dreams of being an astronomer can view a Stephen Hawking lecture at the neighborhood Internet Cafe or even at home if his family can afford web access with a reliable broadband connection.

Yet I also have two anxieties. The first is that being filmed all the time can accentuate some of the bad impulses to which all people, including professors, are subject. A professor who delights in his or her reputation for obnoxiousness or withering comments may be tempted to engage in such behavior more often if there is a chance a video-gone-viral could be the result. I also worry about the untenured assistant professors who want, at a conference for example, to put a controversial but important idea up for debate in front of colleagues for critique before it goes into the film-and-web-o-sphere. Will they censor themselves knowing that if the idea turns out be ridiculous or offensive, it will be preserved forever and more broadly distributed? Will professors who aspire to be deans or provosts (or simply hate public controversy) shy away from anything other than the safest, most banal pronouncements lest their filmed remarks come back to haunt them later?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

2 thoughts on “Professors on Film”

  1. “Will professors who aspire to be deans or provosts (or simply hate public controversy) shy away from anything other than the safest, most banal pronouncements lest their filmed remarks come back to haunt them later?”

    Of course they will. They already do, and always have done so.

  2. I share your concerns. This idea that everyone should have to submit to being photographed all the time is a load of hooey, and I think our privacy laws are quite poor. I hate to play the gender card, but I blame male legislators and judges.

    A few weeks ago, I saw a picture online of a Muslim lady at the beach, and the “reporter” seemed to be making fun of her for wearing a chador. I don’t see why she is supposed to have given up her right to reasonable privacy – which to me includes, not having some random schmoe take her picture for his utterly non-newsworthy online-and-thus-eternal blatherings — just because she wanted to go see the ocean! I mean this in all seriousness. There was no news. And this happens all the time.

    I also think the Supreme Court should stick to their guns and bar cameras. Audio should be enough for people.

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