Like a lot of people before him, Harvey Perlman thinks YouTube is a good forum in which to air his thoughts. But Perlman is no undergrad. He's chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. And Perlman’s “Harvey’s Perls of Knowledge” video series has become the talk of his campus.
The videos generally run less than a minute in length and feature the same basic setup, in which Perlman speaks from an armchair. They vary in subject matter; some address Internet-specific phenomena, like his version of the “Harlem Shake” meme, in which he doesn't do the dance, but simply sits silently and reads for the vast majority of the video before ending with a single word: “Don’t.” And then there’s his summary of the “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) trend: “You say it before you’re going to do something dumb? This phrase is stupid.”
Others relate more to student affairs, such as one about the number of books in the university library (“This just makes me miss Love Library that much more,” reads one alum's response on Twitter), or his recent response to student complaints about his reluctance to cancel classes over snow: “Well, it becomes a slippery slope. Next thing you know, students will want rain days, or ‘It’s too windy and leaves keep hitting me in the face’ days.” There are also passing swipes at acceptable targets like Northwestern University ("Beat that, Northwestern," Perlman says in one video, after a literal mic-drop) and Crocs (once again, "Don't").
Since the series began, it’s received considerable local press attention. The videos have students talking as well, and most of the buzz is positive, if Twitter is any indication. “My chancellor’s cooler than your chancellor” reads one tweet from a Nebraska student. Another describes the video series as “funny as hell."
“I spent most of my night watching Perls of Knowledge instead of studying Econ” reads one Tweet, using an excuse format near and dear to many college students. “Yup. This is our chancellor. #Awesome,” reads one of the more succinct responses.
Perlman said in an interview that he doesn’t have any particular target audience in mind for the videos, “just a social media audience at large.” Amy Struthers, an associate professor of advertising and public relations at UNL, said that regardless of intent, the videos could be a boon in terms of recruitment for the university. “Enrollment issues are huge and no university can afford to recruit using the same old brochures and direct mail pieces,” Struthers said via e-mail. “I think UNL is unique in taking this particular approach of humanizing our chancellor in a humorous way that reflects positively on the whole institution, as a place a little bit different and more interesting than other similar schools.”
Perlman seemed pleasantly surprised that the videos had gotten so much exposure, saying it was “interesting to watch the social media at work.” He added that he plans to continue the videos “until I run out of thoughts."
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