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That’s Not #Funny: Higher Ed’s Least Clever Twitter Accounts

Earlier this month, a puckish Twitter user going by the handle @ProfJeffJarvis managed to provoke two actual professors into fits of outrage.

Rurick Bradbury, the technology entrepreneur who runs the account, has been sending up the jargon of contemporary “thinkfluencers” since 2012, amassing 11,000 followers. He named the account after Jeff Jarvis, a writer and professor at the City University of New York’s journalism school, although the object of Mr. Bradbury’s satire is not necessarily Mr. Jarvis but a wider culture of new-media seers.

Tweeting in character, Mr. Bradbury got into a scrape with Nassim N. Taleb, a writer and professor of risk engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering—and then with Mr. Jarvis himself, who said Mr. Bradbury “crossed a line” by imperiling his reputation in the eyes of Mr. Taleb.

We hunted around for other Twitter accounts that make fun of highly visible figures in higher education. Our search turned up a handful of parodies, mostly duds. It seems as if higher education is either not very good at producing satire-worthy figures or not very good at skewering them.

One of the telltale signs of an unsuccessful Twitter account is the ratio of tweets to followers. Here are a few unfortunate attempts to speak truth while dissembling as power.

Faux Cary Nelson

Cary Nelson, an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, used to lead the American Association of University Professors. Mr. Nelson recently made headlines by defending his university’s decision to withdraw a job offer to a scholar who had made controversial remarks about Israeli politics on social media. Faux Cary Nelson writes self-incriminating tweets about his own political motivations. The parody account has 106 tweets and 50 followers.

FakeBabsBeno

 

Barbara A. Beno is the president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. FakeBabsBeno tweets almost exclusively about the agency’s showdown with the Community College of San Francisco. The fake account has 319 tweets and 17 followers.

Fake Wallace Loh


Wallace Loh is the president of the University of Maryland at College Park. Fake Wallace Loh tweets what appear to be random excerpts from the inner monologue of an undergraduate. The account has 5,367 tweets and 2,895 followers.

Several successful parody accounts dedicated to specific college presidents have ceased tweeting, or do so only occasionally. Some have been shut down at the behest of university officials.

The more popular satire accounts in higher education do not focus on particular officials. These include versions of the “hulk” personae that have cropped up to goof on various tribes, academic and otherwise, using brute exclamations styled in all-caps.

 

There is also The Journal of BS, an account dedicated to amusing titles of journal articles both real and imagined.

 

Inexplicably, one of the most popular higher education-themed humor accounts is one that relies the least on language. Lego Academics stages snapshots of university life using Lego figurines and straightforward captions. It has gained 21,300 followers since it started tweeting earlier this month.

 

Earlier this year, Todd Levitt, a criminal defense lawyer and former adjunct professor at Central Michigan University, discovered he had a doppelganger on Twitter, Todd Levitt 2.0. It turned out to be the creation of the adult son of another professor at the university. Mr. Levitt sued.

“Defendant tweeted, ‘What’s the difference between the internet and my tweeted legal advice? A: None. They’re both 100% accurate!” wrote Mr. Levitt’s attorneys in a court complaint.

 

“Plaintiff, Todd Levitt, has never provided legal advice after merely conducting a simple internet search,” his lawyers explained. “His legal expertise and the information he provides his clients is a result of over twenty years of experience as an attorney.”

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