A President With a Lot of Friends

Iowa's David Skorton uses "The Facebook" to stay in touch with students.
March 16, 2005

They say it's lonely at the top. But David J. Skorton, the president of the University of Iowa, has a nice support group -- 994 strong, and growing every day.

Skorton has a profile in " The Facebook," an online "social network" service that students nationwide have flocked to since it was started last year. The Facebook, like Friendster and similar services, lets participants set up profiles of themselves and link those profiles to their friends' profiles, their friends' friends' profiles, etc. The Facebook focuses on college students, and is open only to participants with e-mail addresses at the growing number of colleges that are part of the network.

Most students use Facebook for fun, to organize parties, find dates or stay in touch with friends. Participants' profiles display their friends in the system, so it's easy to see who is well connected on a given campus. Skorton was encouraged to sign up by two of those who are now among his nearly 1,000 friends: Lindsay Schutte, president of the student government at Iowa, and Josh Skorton, the president's son and a student at Stanford.

David Skorton said via e-mail that "the reaction so far has been terrific and the undergraduates seem to like communicating with me in this way."

On the president's Facebook "Wall," the part of a profile where friends can post public notes, it's clear that students use their access to him for a mix of serious and not-so-serious communication. He is offered support for a Board of Regents meeting and praised for his "forceful condemnation of those nut militant animal groups."

Other posts suggest that he looks like Alan Rickman, request an all-smoking dorm, invite him to join various student groups, and ask such question as "do you mind it when people call you 'sko-ball'?"

To date, Skorton's online friends do not include any presidents at other institutions. A search of the Facebook database reveals a few others, although it is unclear if they all created their own profiles; at least one photograph with a real president's name features a bodybuilder's body.

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