What goes on a university home page?



Apparently job search firms routinely conduct online searches on academics. Inger Newburn recently reported that she quickly found online information about someone for whom she had been asked to provide an independent tenure commentary, and she urged us all to google ourselves. But I wonder how much checking actually goes on outside of the job and promotion search… Does anyone really look, for example, at what we employed academics say on our various web platforms?  And what are people already in university employ obliged to put on their institutional webpages?

I’m currently looking at university home pages and I’ve found surprising variation in what institutions expect people to say about themselves. My own university, like most of those in the UK, expects all academics to enter publications into a university repository which links automatically to our home page. We are also expected to put up details of our research and research funding, although there is no pro-forma for this as is there is with publications. We have to state our supervision areas, and then there is space for a personal statement. The institutional convention is to give information about history, achievements and scholarly commitments, with as many actual details as possible linked to relevant sources – blogs, journals and so on. The decision about whether to put up details of teaching is left to individuals. But every academic staff member from the most recently employed research fellow to the Vice Chancellor has at least some ‘facts’ about themselves on their university home pages.

However, I’ve seen universities where nothing seems to be standardised at all, and where there are wildly different approaches to the home page, even within one disciplinary unit. I’m not talking here about personal style or stamp – but something more basic. So I’ve seen home pages from academic departments where some people have full cvs, while others, presumably people with offices in the same corridor, have something extraordinarily minimal and/or vague and/or bland. You read these uninformative pages and wonder – who are these people and what do they do?

And I’ve seen some universities where only academic staff below the level of Dean have to give explicit information about their academic achievements on their home pages –the academic line managers and leaders who make decisions about academic quality and performance appear to get away with generalised and unsubstantiated references to their extensive publications, membership of unnamed Editorial Boards and stellar scholarly reputations. If anyone wanted to know any detail about them – or to check any of those claims – they’d have to google search.

The more I thought about the variation in institutional home page requirements the more worried I got. Don’t ‘grass roots’ academics have a right to see the scholarly credentials of their line managers? Don’t students, and people we want to work in partnership with, have the right to check us out quickly, at our home institutions? It does seem to me that we academics, regardless of our level of seniority, really ought to put at least some actual details of our scholarly work into the public arena. I’m not suggesting something completely standardised here but, you know, just some details that can be checked out.

I started to get very suspicious about what was online. Very. But I took myself in hand, you’ll be pleased to know, and remembered that the vast majority of us do give a lot of details about ourselves, details that can be checked – we name some if not all of our books or papers, we provide a link to where these publications can be found, we name the journals on whose editorial boards we sit. We provide an easily traceable trail that verifies who we are and what we do.

The vast majority of us don’t set out to misrepresent ourselves. But the pressure is always on – to be better, publish more, have a higher profile. And I guess it’s not surprising that a few people succumb to some form of exaggeration about what they do and have done (no names mentioned here, but I do have some evidence for saying this). The risk is of course, that someone somewhere might very well decide to search them out…

Having an academic profile is now hugely important. It’s also very important that this is not seen as simply a form of self-promotion, but rather as a transparent window on our work. Just as we do in our research, I reckon we ought to make our claims about what we do and have done  very explicit – and yes, verifiable. And that’s just about being ethical, in my book. It’s not about performativity, And our institutions can help us do this by setting out a basic format for all academics to follow – and I do mean all.

My current thoughts on the academic home page then are… No vague woolly claims that can’t be backed up. Enough information to say who we are and what we actually, really do. Lists of publications and funding that can be checked. Reasonable claims. No hype. No self-proclaimed gurus or world experts unless this really is true. Home pages that are honest and that hang our academic shingles out for anyone to peruse…