One more thing while I’m working away on my Beckett post (which I will begin writing real soon, I promise).
In the wake of the smear campaign that may or may not have cost Juan Cole a position at Yale, the Chronicle of Higher Education asks:
(They’ve generously made the forum free to nonsubscribers. You can click on it right there.)
Seven bloggers respond, including the humble and almost preternaturally shy owner of this here blog. I am curious, I admit, about whether blogging might derail other people’s careers, because—after all—people sometimes say the strangest things on blogs, and when they. . . .
Oh, wait a second. The Chronicle was asking me whether blogging could derail my career. Dang, I completely missed that part. Funny—it just never occurred to me.
Gulp! Well, on the off chance that any of my colleages in academe are reading this (and if you are, why are you wasting your precious time? get back to work!), I hope you’ll note that despite yesterday’s horrible gaffe, this blog is usually quite free of typographical errors. And that I hardly ever use cuss words, like The Big Lebowski does. And that this blog is heartily endorsed by Krusty the Clown.
Anyway, some of the forum contributions are quite wonderful. Daniel Drezner sounds a properly cautionary note:
Blogs and prestigious university appointments do not mix terribly well. That is because top departments are profoundly risk-averse when it comes to senior hires. In some ways, that caution is sensible—hiring a senior professor is the equivalent of signing a baseball player to a lifetime contract without any ability to release or trade him. In such a situation, even small doubts about an individual become magnified.
The trouble with blogs is that they seem designed to provoke easy doubts. Blogs are an outlet for unexpurgated, unreviewed, and occasionally unprofessional musings. What makes them worth reading can also make them prone to error. Any honest scholar-blogger—myself included—could acknowledge a post or two that they would like to have back. At a place like Yale, one bad blog post can erase a lot of good will very quickly.
There are other risks. At Chicago, I found that some of my colleagues overestimated the time and effort I put into my blog—which led them to overestimate lost opportunities for scholarship. Other colleagues maintained that they never read blogs—and yet, without fail, they come into my office once every two weeks to talk about a post of mine. Today’s senior faculty members look at blogs the way a previous generation of academics looked at television—as a guilty, tawdry pleasure that should not be talked about in respectable circles.
Brad DeLong counters with a different calibration of risks and rewards:
The hope of all of us who blog is that we will become smarter, do more useful work, be happier and more productive, and will also impress our deans so they will raise our salaries. The first three hopes are clearly true: Academics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world—both the academic and the broader worlds—and are happier for it. Are we more productive in an academic sense? Maybe. We will see when things settle down.
Are our deans impressed? Not so far, but they should be. A lot of a university’s long-run success depends on attracting good undergraduates. Undergraduates and their parents are profoundly influenced by the public face of the university. And these days, a thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed Web logger like Juan Cole or Dan Drezner is an important part of a university’s public face. Michigan gains in reputation and mindshare from having a Cole on its faculty. Yale loses from not having an equivalent.
A great university has faculty members who do a great many things—teaching undergraduates, teaching graduate students, the many things that are “research,” public education, public service, and the turbocharging of the public sphere of information and debate that is a principal reason that governments finance and donors give to universities. Web logs may well be becoming an important part of that last university mission.
I do worry sometimes about being part of the Internets face of my fine university, even though (just for the record) this skittish blog has no infrastructural relation to Penn State, not even a hyperlink from my official faculty web page. It’s just one of the things I do in my spare time, like freelance writing and ice hockey and softball and golf and polo and amateur Very Large Array radio astronomy. But it hadn’t even occurred to me to try to impress my dean! I guess when you have Krusty’s endorsement (as I do, see above), you’re basically freed from all such distractions.
Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s contribution reminds us that the immediacy of blogs can be a very good thing:
The blogosphere is an excellent vehicle for the kind of intellectual ascendancy [Cole] has achieved. Dozens of important intellectual and academic blogs are being written for a wide public—and they are clearly being read, influencing the agenda, if not the content, of debate in the mainstream news media. In his informed discussions of the Middle East and Islam, Cole has shown us how to use blogs effectively and authoritatively, and how to use them as outlets for issues that are changing too quickly to leave to academic publication. In his defense of his own record and reputation against right-wing attacks, he has shown us how to protect ourselves against cheap shots and low blows.
And Erin O’Connor says that we shouldn’t deplore energetic debate:
Much ink and many pixels have been expended deploring the energy with which Cole’s candidacy was debated. But we should welcome such debate, and we should meet it with more. There is no threat to academic freedom in vigorous public discussion. There is only freedom itself.
For as Kris Kristofferson once wrote, “freedom’s just another word for a nationally-coordinated right-wing smear campaign against a prominent scholar of the Middle East.”
Best of all, Juan Cole responds. He opens with
The question is whether Web-log commentary helps or damages an academic’s career. It is a shameful question. Intellectuals should not be worrying about “careers,” the tenured among us least of all.
and closes with
Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like to monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in the general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they might have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this, trying to help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I have been silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose in journals locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for the sake of a “career”? The role of the public intellectual is my career. And it is a hell of a career. I recommend it.
Ahhh. To the weary among us, that’s better than a double espresso. Thanks, Professor Cole, for the reminder—and for all you do.
Oh, and while we’re blogging about the Chronicle of Higher Education and blogging, this bit from the Little Professor is hilarious.
At this point, I wonder what it would even mean for your career to be derailed? A 4-4 year? A serious flirtation with Dada? (”Take a newspaper! Take a pair of scissors! Choose an article as long as you are planning to make yours. Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag. Shake it gently ...”Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 07/25 at 01:29 PM
The jealously, it oozes ...Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 07/25 at 01:30 PM
Sheesh, those goddamned law professors are so milquetoast and dreary. Come to think of it (accessing random memory file) they all were!Posted by norbizness on 07/25 at 01:30 PM
Man, I loved it when Janis sang, “freedom’s just another word for a nationally-coordinated right-wing smear campaign against a prominent scholar of the Middle East.”
Makes me tear up every time. Sniff.Posted by on 07/25 at 02:00 PM
I wonder whether there is a correlation between the academic discipline v the subject matter of the blog with regards blogging being considered a positive or negative towards academic hiring. Over at Cosmic Variance there was some discussion of this because a young physicist felt he had lost a position because of his political blogging (non-US as i recall). Juan Cole’s excellent daily blogging reflects his expertise in the field in which he also teaches. His blog could easily be viewed exampling his own ongoing research efforts in the affairs of all that is the Middle East.
The Yeats post (and the wakan (mysterious) Beckett one) reflect your efforts within your field whilst your blog is accessorized with all manner of subjects and reflections. Indeed i suspect that if someone, with nothing but endless time, were to review all of your posts, they might find a fairly even distribution of posts representative of your many areas of research, study, and writing, as well as posts for fun and sport. I would think that the only blog topics that would pose some sort of threat to an academic institution (as in loss of endowment funding or some such risk) would be those that are purely political in nature (at both ends of the spectrum).Posted by on 07/25 at 02:15 PM
Juan Cole is a good dude. Not only is his commentary on-point but that little bit at the end pushes him over the normal boundaries of “cool professordom.” Makes me feel far less nervous about landing a job after grad school. Or, at least, he kind of reaffirms my mission to do away with status anxiety.
I think it’s also important to note that academic blogs(meaning, blogs written by academics) do a service for OTHER academics. Academics who do have a sense of wishing to break disciplinary boundaries and desire to read up on some great news commentary re: Middle East geopolitics can go to Cole’s website and get schooled. Hm, who would’ve ever thought of professors learning once in a while? Especially from someone as knowledgeable as Cole. I think blogs allow for a cross- or interdisciplinary discourse among professors who should be engaged with this stuff but don’t necessarily want to read through other prof’s books. It’s almost like a crash course into a colleague’s field of interest or specialty. Doesn’t that kind of help promote the intellectual air of the university? Or, more accurately, doesn’t it at least limit the anti-intellectual environment that pervades many American universities? Yale doesn’t think so.Posted by Sam Han on 07/25 at 02:22 PM
spyder, the Beckett post is on its way. This I promise you. It’s not a joke!
And Sam Han:
I think blogs allow for a cross- or interdisciplinary discourse among professors who should be engaged with this stuff but don’t necessarily want to read through other prof’s books. It’s almost like a crash course into a colleague’s field of interest or specialty. Doesn’t that kind of help promote the intellectual air of the university?
Yes indeed, and Brad DeLong says almost precisely this. Check him out. He’s also good on economics. . . .Posted by Michael on 07/25 at 02:35 PM
***Possible Thread Hijack Alert****
Does blogging hurt or help one’s career? Well, yes. Both. Even when your career isn’t in academia’s big leagues. It affects those of us in the semi-pros as well, and I could argue that getting outed as bloggers could have nastier and more immediate consequences for teachers in public (elementary, junior, and senior high) schools.
There are some teachers at the primary and secondary levels whose blogs share information, lesson plans, etc., about the tools of the trade – but mostly the temptation is to discuss horror stories about the classroom or administration. This is risky behavior, obviously, especially if/when a particularly crafty kid gets bored in computer lab and Googles your sorry ass and promptly runs not to the principal or even daddy but rather the local paper. When I think about this kind of thing I imagine headlines reading Local Teacher Shares Deepest Thoughts Online; Annoyed by Some Students or Local Teacher Has Foul Mouth or Local Teacher Refers to Board of Education as “Inept.”
Nevermind that teachers often are annoyed by certain students, swear in private, or have thoughts that anyone following local politics have had themselves.
Now, I knew all of these risks when I quit a high-fallutin’ job in order to become a teacher. I simply think teachers of all stripes, whether fairly or not, are held to a higher standard and need to be awfully careful about what they write in public spaces. Yes, there are obvious ways around being outed, but even when I’m not writing specifically about my town, I’m amazed at how tricky truly anonymous blogging can be.Posted by Phil on 07/25 at 02:36 PM
I second spyder’s notion that some disciplines should be more open to blogging than others. And by “some disciplines,” I means “mine.” The medium suits the work, it merely lacks professional recognition. What’s the difference between an informed close-reading of a Yeats poem here vs. the same thing in ELH? The same doesn’t hold true in the sciences, as time spent outside the lab is, well, time spent outside the lab. Plus, there’s the added benefit of engaging with a general public--or, more to the point, with an educated general public. That requires more facility with the language of the public intellectual than the average academic possesses, however.
Part of what I wrote yesterday in response to the Chronicle‘s roundtable addresses this:
blogging is about paying attention to writing-qua-writing. The same cannot be said of academic writing. A successful academic must produce so much material in such a short amount of time, she must be born with or have already acquired a style prior to enrolling in her graduate program. The traditional outlets for stylistic development have disappeared. We no longer write letters—and we all know email rarely scales the epistolary heights of previous generations. Nor can we all be former creative writers turned scholars. So when are academics supposed to learn how to write? In seminars when the content-crunch of the quarter or semester buckles knees? During the dissertation process, when deadlines loom and there is always, without fail, more research to be done?
I know, I know, this isn’t the familiar account for the declining standards of academic prose. Why hold complex post-structuralist thought responsible for the “quality” of our prose? Why not hold the rigors of contemporary academic life responsible instead? Granted, Derridean thought hot-dogs in Derridean prose and Judith Butler claims revolutionary intent drives her willful obscurity—but the Derridean hot-dogger and Butlerian revolutionary are exceptional cases. Most academics don’t wrestle with Derridean philosophical complexity or share Butler’s revolutionary commitments. They may appear to, but only because they lack practical experience in communicating abstruse thought to non-specialists.
When—as is the case in English deparments—everyone seems a specialist unto themselves, expert only in the subject and idiosyncratic method of their expertise, the inability to report their findings to colleagues hinders the development of the entire field. Wouldn’t time spent slogging through hastily assembled essays be better invested elsewhere? A discipline-wide commitment to clarity—to the creation of a generation whose prose is as masterful as its thought is adroit—begins with the establishment of something not unlike the current blogosphere. A space in which difficult ideas are hashed in a language which does not, which cannot, partake of the excuse that its difficulty is inherent to the difficulty of its subject. As Derrida himself demonstrated, supple thought can be communicated in graceful prose.
Or it could be, if the person writing it had time and incentive enough to polish it.Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 07/25 at 02:37 PM
Never fails. Correct someone’s spelling? Alwasy wtih a coupel fo typso. Praise clarity and precision? Always needlessly verbosely, with neither wit nor style evident in the presentation of the intended declamation, and frequently with errors of a grammatical nature, as evidenced in the previous comment vis-a-vis subject-verb agreement.Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 07/25 at 02:41 PM
Oh, and Scott, to answer your question up in comment one: it depends on just how severe a derailment you’re thinking of. Personal difficulties, for example, can usually do the trick. If you’re talking about being unable to write anything substantial for a year or so for personal reasons, I’ve had me two of those in the past fifteen years. I just got back on track, that’s all.Posted by Michael on 07/25 at 02:50 PM
Re: Beckett post.
It’s too late. Narrative expectations have been set. At this point, to produce a Beckett post rather than a never-ending series of excuses for the lack of a Beckett post would be a *literary crime.*Posted by on 07/25 at 03:06 PM
Easy for you to say, Brad.
But you have a point. Maybe I should just post Lucky’s monologue and have done with it.Posted by on 07/25 at 03:14 PM
Weird timing. We’re holding one of them new-fangled Internets conferences over at VR@RL RIGHT NOW.
You see, us little fish are swimming towards those shiny tenur-y objects WHILE wielding sharp bloggy objects.
What are you going to call your “Unnameable” post anyway?Posted by DocMara on 07/25 at 03:38 PM
Great stuff. Me, I don’t blog, nor do I have a tenure-track job. Direct causal relationship? Disturbing if true.
Also love the Little Professor satire. Personally, though, I’ve always read the Chronicle exactly the way I read Us Weekly (Cornel West broke up with Harvard! Sheryl Crow broke up with Lance Armstrong! Harvard broke up with Lawrence Summers! Alanis Morissette broke up with Ryan Reynolds!), except much more often and with much more agreeably scandalized interest. I love to read those first-person things precisely because they’re delectably predictable whinges. I’d hate to see them change.Posted by on 07/25 at 03:50 PM
Ultimately, isn’t this a question of ownership? When a professor publishes work in a review, textbook, or other publication, they are, in a sense, also bringing along their scholastic institution on board as at least a sponsor? Does that sponsor have any editorial expectation of quality, coherence, expertise, etc? When that same professor publishes in a Blog format, at what point can that person express points of view in opposition to their employer? I chose ‘ownership’ instead of ‘censorship’ because of the professor’s economic relationship with their university. At what point does the ‘idea’ belong to the professor or to the institution that has hired that person? I have had many a conversation with professors that I can safely say did not support the current “accepted wisdom” of the institution’s caretakers. But these conversations were private, not recorded. What of those same opinions expressed rather permanently as a Blog post? Could they not carry similar weight as a public talk or a letter to the editor? Can the university be held libel for something written in a professor’s Blog? Remembering a discussion about whether or not a professor’s test essay questions were left or right leaning (MHO- it’s the answers, not the question,) I don’t mean this post a rhetorical. What is the university’s expectation?Posted by on 07/25 at 04:26 PM
Can the university be held libel for something written in a professor’s Blog?
Oh, Man, don’t give me Ideas. The Second I come up with some Cash is the Second I sue some University for Liable because of the Opinion of one of its Professors. That’ll teach em to claim Ownership of Ideas. I can’t wait.Posted by on 07/25 at 04:38 PM
Is the question: so what do Deans think of blogs?
I’m not sure, but here’s what I think of the Deans I’ve dealt with: they remind me of Dolores Umbridge.Posted by Asad on 07/25 at 05:37 PM
Fortunately, Asad, my dean is nothing like Professor Umbridge. (Or any other Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor!) But what do deans think of blogs? I have no idea! Nor do I have any insight into what blogs think of deans.Posted by Michael on 07/26 at 11:01 AM
Well, it was silly of me to pose the question about deans as some kind of general category, just so I could throw darts. What I meant was that the Chronicle debate circled around the question of whether blogging would come to be seen as detrimental to one’s intellectual seriousness by people who have decision-making power.
It’s something I worry about a little, as a grad student who posts rambling little mini-essays on a blog, especially when old acquaintances send emails mentioning having read a piece - whoa, people read this stuff? And future hiring committee members might too?Posted by Asad on 07/26 at 10:52 PM
Amanda, I don’t blog either, and I also don’t have a tenure-track job. Coin-ki-dink, I think not… wait a sec, I don’t have a job at all!
Hmmm… maybe the Internets need an art history blog. Then again, maybe not, because if I ever started blogging I would never, ever get any real publications under my belt. I spend enough time as it is here and on other blogs, and I haven’t even started the Beckett post! (I do love the illumination, Michael. Keep in mind, it was most likely produced in SCOTLAND not Ireland. Ducking and running...)Posted by on 07/27 at 12:41 AM
Me, I did blog, well before and during the advent of blogger. I stopped before and during the tenure decision, though really, why? The damage had been done.
I am now tenured--*gestures, with no irony and little metaphorics, to the blood on the wall and the gore on his spattered friends*--but the blogging was a problem, I feel.
I will save my speculations as to why that is in a future post on my own website--but for now I would like to say that I think that the Chronicle symposium said very little, and very little of use, about blogging and tenure, though it managed to say everything about professional ambition and the mantle of public intellectualism, directly or indirectly.
I think that Juan Cole’s exhortation to be shamed for even asking a question about one’s livelihood, professional standing, and blogging is noble, thrilling, chin-up-and-lip-stiff, and deeply disinginuous at best.
There is more to be said and the people to say it might very well be held accountable to their words with their jobs.Posted by Tyler Curtain on 07/27 at 10:49 AM
Disingenuous. Oy gevalt.Posted by Tyler Curtain on 07/27 at 10:50 AM
And congrats on tenure, Tyler.Posted by Michael on 07/27 at 12:53 PM
Thank you, Michael. I am deeply, deeply fortunate.
And in keeping with Cole’s tone, I honestly do hope to honor my fortune.
I’ll start first by reading Boethius.Posted by Tyler Curtain on 07/27 at 12:56 PM
Hey, you guys didn’t read Cole’s response. He says other stuff is more important than career! (Geez, suddenly reminded of that pop art T-shirt with the Romance Comics girl saying, with a tear in her eye: “Nuclear War!! There goes my career!") Of course, that’s actually true in Cole’s case because his blog really is important.Posted by on 07/27 at 04:52 PM
That darn Juan Cole. I liked him better when he used to busy himself promulgating Cole’s Law:
http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=Coles+Law&i=39961,00.aspPosted by moioci on 07/28 at 12:20 AM
’Intellectuals should not be worrying about “careers”...’
That’s easy to say when you’ve got one.Posted by on 07/29 at 05:58 PM
I can’t fin Krustys endorsement of this blog. Should I stop reading it?Posted by on 08/03 at 08:48 AM
EUROPA FALSCHE WEG
Europa ist bei der Bekämpfung der Weltwirtschaftskrise nach Ansicht des Nobelpreisträgers Paul Krugman auf dem falschen Weg. „Die Vereinigten Staaten haben recht, Europa hat unrecht“, sagte der Wirtschaftswissenschaftler, der in den vergangenen Monaten besonders die deutsche Regierung für ihre abwartende Haltung kritisiert hatte. Die Mitgliedstaaten der Europäischen Union müssten viel aggressiver als bisher versuchen, die Wirtschaft durch Konjunkturprogramme anzukurbeln. Dabei wies er Bedenken zurück, dass die großzügige amerikanische Intervention die Inflation beschleunigen und das höhere Defizit den Haushalt zu stark belasten könnte. „Eine Billion Dollar mehr wird das Problem nicht wesentlich vergrößern“, sinnierte der Hochschullehrer von der Eliteuniversität Princeton am Montagnachmittag auf einer Pressekonferenz in New York.
Krugman wäre nicht der scharfzüngige Kolumnist und Buchautor, wüsste er nicht eine scheinbar simple Antwort auf die drängende Frage, wie eine Neuauflage der Großen Depression zu vermeiden sei. Er forderte staatliches Handeln auf breiter Front, ohne allzu sehr ins Detail zu gehen: aggressive Strategien, um die Kreditklemme auf den Finanzmärkten zu beseitigen, ein weiter Gestaltungsspielraum für die Geldpolitik, umfangreiche Konjunkturprogramme. „All diese Maßnahmen haben in der Vergangenheit gewirkt, und sie werden ohne Frage auch diesmal helfen“, betonte er.Posted by on 04/14 at 06:40 PM