Americans love reality television, but only if the reality is worth tuning into. So it's safe to say that most university presidents won't be getting their own Bravo shows anytime soon. Campus administration isn't quite as adventurous as the life of Honey Boo Boo. Still, that hasn't stopped Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University, from starring in his own series of YouTube "webisodes," or short, online-only videos.
The four episodes he's taped so far are funny shorts advertising a series of guest lectures at his school. In one inspired by silent black-and-white films, he plays a custodian. In another, he clones a mini-version of himself. In a third, he dances the rumba around his office — with a Roomba. Aoun's YouTube stardom has enhanced his social media presence around campus, where he's already known for his charmingly goofy Twitter posts.
Aoun's outreach may be quirky, but it's refreshing at a time when many university presidents are seen by students as corporate-like fundraisers in chief. It's a long way from the outsized role they played during much of the last century — not only on campus, but across American society.
Aoun's online presence points to a new way university presidents can use the Internet to engage with their students and the public, on matters both serious and silly. It may seem like a distraction from their day jobs. But, in fact, it should be a part of it.