You know that you’ve made an impression on college students when a simple Facebook search turns up not one but multiple groups dedicated to either the love or hate of your persona.
University Provost Alan Brinkley has made it.
As nice as being Columbia’s chief academic officer, distinguished professor of history, accomplished author, and occasional contributor to the New York Times Book Review may be, his finest distinction may very well be the numerous Facebook groups by and for the enamored—and the disenchanted.
The “Alan Brinkley Appreciation Society,” “Alan Brinkley is Our Boyfriend,” and “My Heart (and Life) Belong to Alan Brinkley” are just a smattering of the groups praising the provost. It seems, however, that the phenomenon of making a professor the subject of conversation outside an academic context is more common than one would think.
Appreciation and abhorrence toward several Columbia administrators and professors can be found with a simple search. Results for President Bollinger include “I Have a Man-Crush on President Lee C. Bollinger,” for professor Eric Foner, “I Stalked Eric Foner to Get Jake Gyllenhaal’s Number,” as Foner was once married to Gyllenhaal’s mother, and for professor Jeffrey Sachs, “Jeffrey Sachs Is An Imperialist Running Dog.”
Many of the groups dedicated to Brinkley are administered by high school students who use Brinkley’s textbook, American History: A Survey, in their Advanced Placement U.S. History classes, and are populated by students who resort to the Facebook pages to vent about reading assignments or share inside jokes about the quirks of the book.
“Alan Brinkley is pretty much treated with cult-like reverence by most of the kids that go through the AP U.S. History course at my high school,” said Duke University first-year Alison Zinna, a former AP U.S. History student at Tenafly High School and one of Brinkley’s many Facebook fans.
A group of Columbia students also started a group expressing their affection for the provost, most of whom are fans of his class, “U.S. History 1919-1945.”
Hannah Cass, BC ’09 and president of the group, said that she took Brinkley’s class her freshman year, “and it was one of the most brilliant, inspiring, challenging classes I’ve ever taken. He’s the most engaging lecturer I’ve ever encountered at Columbia,”
Provost Brinkley said in an e-mail that he was aware of the Internet groups in his honor, though he has not personally visited any of them (he receives his own personal Facebook news feed from his high school daughter). He observed that high school students are frequently very interested in the identity of the author of their textbook.
“I have often been invited to speak at high schools using my book, and have sometimes been greeted by students wearing T-shirts or hats with my name or picture on them,” he said.
But not every student’s heart overflows with nerdy love for Brinkley to the extent of the members of the Appreciation Society do. In fact, his history textbook appears to be rather polarizing.
With a simple click, one can also stumble upon less rosy opinions of the Provost’s work, such as “Alan Brinkley Ruined My Life” and “I Hate Alan Brinkley.”
But Brinkley did not seem concerned about the negative attention that he gets on the internet. “It goes with the job, I guess,” he said.