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Blogging:  an academic question

I know I’m naive and sentimental and a bit slow on the uptake sometimes, but I admit that this piece of news, involving the denial of tenure to Daniel Drezner (and, earlier this year, Sean Carroll) at the University of Chicago, took me by surprise.  How much by surprise?  This much by surprise: I don’t know what to think about it.  Now when’s the last time you heard me say that?

On the one hand: there’s no reason to think that their blogs hurt their tenure cases.  The University of Chicago is one of those places that doesn’t go around tenuring people just because they’re smart and productive, oh no.  So the headline “smart productive person denied tenure at Chicago” is a little like “Cubs Fans Say ‘Wait Til Next Year’” or “Rick Santorum Bites Man.” You know, not news.

But on the other hand: Carroll and Drezner are among the best academic bloggers in the academic blogosphere.  They have Serious Blogs (in Sean’s case, he had a Serious Blog that merged into a Serious Group Blog) on which they actually discuss matters relevant to their areas of scholarly expertise, whereas some academic bloggers I could name have Occasionally Silly Blogs that take extended vacations from matters of scholarly expertise.  So if indeed their blogs hurt their tenure cases, that would mean that at certain elite universities, even the very best kind of academic blogging is to be frowned upon and shunned.

Is that a real possibility?  Yes, it’s a real possibility.  Following the Inside Higher Ed link to Juan Non-Volokh (apparently not his real name), I read the following:

I’ve often heard academics disparage non-academic writing in terms that suggest it could be a negative in the tenure process, irrespective of the quality of academic work under review. This is one of the reasons I’ve blogged under a pseudonym—and will at least until my own tenure vote—as I want my file, and the work therein, judged on the merits. In my view, that I spend some of my free time blogging is no more relevant to the process than a colleagues’ decision to spend his or her time attending theater, performing in dance recitals, or raising children, but there is no guarantee that one’s colleagues will agree.

And you know what?  I’ve often heard academics disparage non-academic writing too.  I’ve heard it from the moment I published an essay in the Village Voice in 1991, and I heard a whole earful of it at a conference held in 1997 at the University of Chicago, where I found myself on a panel with someone who insisted that “public” writing was not sufficiently rigorous to be considered worthy of a scholar’s time or attention.  Fortunately, Laura Kipnis was in the audience that day, and she pointed out in response that some forms of “public” writing involve far more rigorous editing and intellectual exchange than some forms of “scholarly” writing.  My co-panelist denied this.  He was wrong, but that was OK.  He was talking about matters outside his area of expertise.

Kipnis eventually elaborated her remark into a short, spicy essay called “Public Intellectuals Do It With Style” (minnesota review 50/51 [1999]: 193-96).  The essay opens like so:

In academic life you regularly encounter people (these would be professors) with vast storehouses of accumulated knowledge who still manage to be singularly uninteresting about what they know.  Ask an academic what he’s working on and all too often he starts vying with Fidel for the longest monologue on record.  Does he think you’re interested?  No, he’s forgotten you’re even there.

But, as Kipnis makes clear a bit later on, she’s not entirely against academic solipsism: “I write as someone who is extraordinarily grateful that institutions of higher learning exist which are willing to provide us geeks with some semblance of refuge from regimes of the normal and to reward us for what so much of the rest of the world finds offensive and incomprehensible.” What’s valuable about “public” intellectualism, however, is precisely its willingness to try to speak to people who aren’t always already interested in the subject at hand:

What it means to be a “public intellectual,” then, is not only to be interdisciplinary rather than disciplinary and surprising rather than fetishistic, but also to seduce an audience that isn’t compelled by any particular compulsion (be it requirements of a major or “keeping up” with the profession), and that isn’t composed of enablers and co-dependents of the knowledge-fetish (who are non-academics, in other words), into donating its attention.  Thus, being a public intellectual demands modes of mediating one’s private fascinations and the driven aspects of one’s intellectual engagements in order to establish connections and rapport whose terms and publics are not dictated in advance.  I will designate these modes of mediation, style. . . .

It’s pretty obvious why the subject of “public intellectuals” arouses such antipathy in the academy: it poses a request, even a demand, to produce different and enlarged forms of mediation. . . .  Insofar as this demand represents an interruption of business as usual in our small corner of the world, insofar as it constitutes a critique of existing practices, it resonates with other critiques of entrenched privilege and power in the academy.  The demand for style—in the largest sense of the word—interrupts a largely unexamined academic privilege of largely unself-examining academics, that is, the privilege academics have long enjoyed to be boring with impunity.

What is true of “public intellectuals,” in Kipnis’ sense, is true a fortiori of bloggers: the mediating skills that we knowledge-merchants have to learn, in order to write for magazines, newspapers, and general-audience journals, are on even more immediate display in blog format—and, of course, the response from readers is more immediate as well.

That’s certainly one of the reasons I’ve grown so fond of blogging, and I imagine that’s one reason why (so far) I haven’t lost too much academic prestige by indulging in this here medium, either.  Most of the professors and graduate students who know about this humble blog have said very kind things about it, sometimes so emphatically as to threaten its status as a humble blog.  But every so often someone says to me, with just a barely audible sneer, “I suppose you’ll be putting this on your blog” or “is this a real talk, or just something from your blog?” and I’ve even heard one professor playfully insult another (not me this time), “oh, go tell it to your blog . . . and both your readers.” Of course, most people who know me or my work know that I was pretty compromised on this score to begin with.  “Well, no wonder Bérubé has a blog,” they say.  “He was already writing for newspapers, it was only a matter of time before he sank even further into the ‘public’ muck.” The idea, clearly enough, is that blogs lie somewhere on the respectability-spectrum between personal diaries and obsessive basement hobbies, and that while it’s fine that you write about your life or build your model trains on your own time, you should at least be circumspect—if not positively sheepish—about doing it in public.

I think that five or ten years from now, that idea is going to look pretty silly.  While it’s true that the blogosphere is home to any number of Comic Book Guys and Dennis Miller Wannabes and Assorted Cranks (and don’t worry, Blogging Jesus loves every one of you), my guess is that before too long, academics will be slapping their foreheads and saying, “what were we thinking?  All these years we were waiting for the second reader’s report on the essay we submitted to the Journal of the Econometric Analysis of Advanced Eggplant Parmesan, we could have been using blogs for any number of intellectual and pedagogical purposes, from extramural class discussions in individual courses to wide-ranging debates about Constitutional law, the legacy of structuralism, and the impact of intercollegiate athletics on the labor market in professional sports!” At which point I fear I will not be able to refrain from saying yeah, well, told you so.

But right now I still don’t know what to think.  Suggestions welcome.

Posted by on 10/11 at 01:46 PM
  1. I hate being first---damn. 

    There is a bit of twisted irony i think, in that so many professors have made careers in various disciplines collecting and reviewing the diaries, letters, notes, and other strewn correspondence of the subjects of their inquiries.  Taking “public” records into their academic “not-so-’white’-anymore” ivory towers, pouring over them with every sort of analytical technology and theory, and delivering up this or that screed for purview of an elite select few seems to be a cause celebre of those same professors who disdain blogging and public intellectual writing. 

    That a university so intellectually respected as is Chicago choose to include a professor’s blogging behavior as part of a tenure review, can only be a sign of the demands of a board of trustees desperately trying to expand and increase the endowment funds from the same K Street Project that DeLay and Norquist created.  Now that DaHo’s has got his bill up in the House Education committee again, i suspect we will see more, not less, of this sordid sort of behavior.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  03:36 PM
  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one Michael. And it’s not just that academics and intellectual have the right to write for the public and blog in their free time. The lack of public intellectuals in this day and age and in this country especially is downright lamentable. In fact, I’m tempted to assert that intellectuals have an obligation to write for the public.

    Unfortunately, our wonderful privatized, corporatized media has the tendency to produce journalists who think they have all the intellectual skills necessary to write about almost anything. As seriously as Thomas Friedman takes himself, we should realize that “The World Is Flat” is not the scholarly treatise on globalization that it purports to be. Public intellectuals can shed real light and genuine insight on complicated issues. The more that intellectuals write for the public, the more the public has access to (for the most part, I know that there are even charletons and cranks in academia!) well-thought out commentary. 

    I’d just like to conclude with one example.  Jean-Paul Sartre, who authored the notoriously difficult “Being and Nothingness” (which I’m buried in right now for my 300 level Sartre seminar), was a prominent public intellectual. So it’s possible to write specialized, difficult books and essays and still take time to communicate with the people.

    Posted by Ben Schacht  on  10/11  at  03:39 PM
  3. hey--hi again mr. m (haven’t been around here for a while!) glad to see you are healed up!

    this news makes me nervous!

    among my various activities here on campus, i work together with the coordinator of our Journalism major to create specific BI (bibliographic instruction) sessions in research methods and resources for reporters, in which all sections of selected required J-courses must participate each semester.

    this year, i added to my set of teaching materials a blog for these students.

    my main purpose was to be able to provide them with one place from which to begin any research for their class assignments (links, advice, instructions, etc.)

    i did not choose to use official university web-space for this because i wanted to be able to update and make changes at any time, without approval, and i selected a free “blogger” site so that my students could post questions or make their own suggestions about resources they’ve been using--what works for them, what they are having problems using, and so on.

    also, for those graduates who go on to work in professional newsrooms, they will find that many organizations employing librarians/researchers will make use of this type of technology for sharing information, just as i have done.

    now, my blog is not a “blog” per se--in that i don’t write about my own opinions on issues or events, although i do provide sections on getting background or researching for stories on current events (such as the recent hurricanes.)

    make sense?

    now, as it happens, my preliminary tenure review (first of the two) comes at the end of this year...i HAD been thinking to include my blog for the students along with my other teaching materials for those classes, as part of my dossier.

    *I* know that what i am doing is definitely enhancing these students’ educations, and is also preparing them to be more effective in their first professional positions when they leave us.

    still, on the face of it, it looks like any other
    blog, i guess...and if there is indeed this bizarre prejudice against such things…

    perhaps i should be re-thinking this?

    Librarian (worried)

    Posted by Librarian  on  10/11  at  03:53 PM
  4. No suggestions here. Just this: Thank you for thinking non-academic people like me are worth writing for.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  10/11  at  03:53 PM
  5. spyder, I’m not at all sure that the University of Chicago took Carroll’s or Drezner’s blogging into consideration, and neither are they.  That’s one of the reasons I don’t know what to think about this.  (For corroboration you can check out this item in the New York Sun:

    While refusing to go into specifics about Mr. Drezner’s tenure case, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Chicago, Dali Yang, dismissed the notion that his department considered Mr. Drezner’s blog in making its decision. “I can assure you it’s not specifically about the blog,” he said.

    Mr. Drezner says he’s confident that his blog did not play a major role in the decision. “I would caution people against jumping to conclusions,” he told The New York Sun yesterday in a telephone interview.

    Another reason is that, as the IHE article points out, other assistant professors with blogs have gotten tenure without any trouble.

    So yeah, librarian, I think there is still some prejudice against blogs.  But the more professors and administrators become familiar with blogs like the ones you’re describing, the rarer that prejudice will get.

    I think.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/11  at  04:25 PM
  6. I would like to echo Chris Clarke, and add:

    Any position that supports quarantining academics from the world at large is, by extension, necessarily an argument in favor of the irrelevance of the academic project. There is absolutely no possibility of making an end run around that problem. If you disapprove of bringing laypeople into the conversation, then you are actively in favor of making academia less relevant. Period. Don’t let them fool you into thinking otherwise.

    That even applies to Kipnis’s relatively innocuous comment about “semblance of refuge,” no matter how much in favor she is in other arenas.

    I’m not an academic, and I’m not a conservative, and I don’t think that “the market should decide all,” or any such thing. But it’s dispiriting to hear how entrenched in academia the idea is that communicating with nonacademics is something worth punishing.

    Which is one reason I’ve always admired your approach, Mr. Berube.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  04:29 PM
  7. That blogging should have any bearing on decisions about tenure is pure bs. I would like to think better of the U of Chicago, but don’t know if they deserve it. I have recently begun to enjoy reading blogs (including yours--outing myself here as a lurker for the first time), and realized that what I’ve missed as an isolated humanities academic is precisely a community of engaged, informed individuals talking across our spheres of work and experience. I think every intellectual has an ethical responsibility to communicate in some public arena other than the university, and we need to clasp the disappearing breed of public intellectuals to our collective bosoms.
    Are institutions of higher learning (especially wannabee Ivys) capable of prejudice? Yessirr. We need to make an effigy of this thing called ‘rigor’ and burn it publicly. More power to your blog.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  04:41 PM
  8. I was so glad to see Ben write this:

    In fact, I’m tempted to assert that intellectuals have an obligation to write for the public.

    People are too often afraid to speak of obligation.  Those in a priviliged position at a university most certainly do have an obligation to speak.

    One of the reasons I wanted to go to grad school was to be one of those (admittedly romanticized) “public intellectuals.” I always loved seeing my history profs at anti-war rallies, read their letters-to-the -editor (both in the school and local papers), and chat with them about contemporary politics.  As someone who studies history, and someone very much influenced by certain cultural historians’ Foucauldian interest in power, I find that I and my colleagues can bring a unique perspective to contemporary politics ("those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” an all that).  Why keep that perspective within the ivory tower?  I certainly hope there’s not (gasp) elitism going on?

    I just started my blog, as a first year graduate student.  It’s a good first step as far as I’m concerned.  Thanks for inspiring, Michael.

    Posted by air  on  10/11  at  04:50 PM
  9. Regardless of whether the blogging is to blame, per chance there is a larger perceived threat within the virtual enterprise of academic blogging, i.e., who needs to enroll in classes if all the prof’s are blogging their knowledge?  The decade-long tradition of posting syllabi and course materials online is relatively benign compared to the emergent pedagogical interactivity of blogs.  Perhaps universities do have something to fear ...

    Another reason is that, as the IHE article points out, other assistant professors with blogs have gotten tenure without any trouble.

    Were these bloggers as popular?  Did they outshine or “outaudience” the old timers enough to prompt jealousy?  You know how deep that feeling runs in academia.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  04:51 PM
  10. As you mentioned, it is probably a little presumptuous to suggest that it was just about the blog. But as one interested in educational technology, blogs have already demonstrated their usefulness for some serious intellectual discourse including as a supplement to classroom discussion. I think that its only a matter of time before an older generation of traditional academics move on from service on tenure committees and retire. By then perhaps blogging will have become more accepted in the academy and will actually be considered as an asset - perhaps as outreach to the community.

    Until such a time as that, at least this blogger will be a little reticent to share his name.

    Posted by Urban Theorist  on  10/11  at  04:56 PM
  11. Well, I’m one blogger who has integrated this blogging thing into my pre-tenure record.  Blogging God help me.  In the meantime, Michael, you can cast your gimlet eye toward my Academic Blog if you want to see this former Nittany Lion negotiate his way through the rapids of the tenure track while holding on to his own humble tablet.

    Posted by DocMara  on  10/11  at  05:02 PM
  12. "Any position that supports quarantining academics from the world at large is, by extension, necessarily an argument in favor of the irrelevance of the academic project.”

    There are these things that meet two or three times a week called “classes” in which most academics strenously attempt to bring laypeople into the discussion.  That’s not to say that blogs aren’t valuable, but let’s not lapse into a caricature of academics sitting in small groups discussin issues only with themselves.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  05:50 PM
  13. ” . . . the essay we submitted to the Journal of the Econometric Analysis of Advanced Eggplant Parmesan”

    Don’t forget the Annals of Semiotic Strudel.

    Posted by Miracle Max  on  10/11  at  06:05 PM
  14. I should probably, you know, blog about this.  But to be honest, in my case I’m pretty sure that the blog was never actually mentioned in any tenure discussions, and I doubt that a certain large fraction of my colleagues even know what a blog is, much less think that I’m wasting time on mine.

    At the same time, we all know that there are certain professors who think that time spent on anything other than research is wasted.  One can give a general impression of not being serious by engaging the public, and a blog can contribute to that in the same way that ordinary magazine articles can.  It’s impossible to tell how much this impression is damaging someone in any individual case.

    Posted by Sean  on  10/11  at  06:07 PM

  15. There are these things that meet two or three times a week called “classes” in which most academics strenously attempt to bring laypeople into the discussion.

    There are also those little marks at the end of papers called “grades” that too many academics use to tell laypeople that they don’t belong and will never measure up to what it takes to participate in the “real” conversations.

    Maybe not quarantining yet still many will tightly cling to the gatekeeping function that blogging eliminates ...

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  06:16 PM
  16. Dang, now it’s just about time in this comment thread for me to say a few good words for rigor and irrelevance.  bhavani, thanks for your comment—but I bet you’ll agree with me (or I hope you will) that “rigor” is not the problem here.  After all, there are more and less rigorous blogs, too:  the good ones are well written and well argued, and they ground their arguments (when they need to) in those better-than-footnotes devices known as hyperlinks.  Instead, the problem lies in the idea that only academic peer-reviewed forms of refereeing can distinguish good from bad work.  As I argued over a decade ago in Social Text, that’s simply not true:  it’s possible to distinguish good from bad arguments in the New Yorker or Dissent as well, even if the protocols of knowledge are somewhat different than they are in an academic quarterly (because those journals necessarily speak to wider readerships with less specialized areas of expertise).  And yeah, I actually do believe that academics have an obligation to speak to interested listeners/ readers outside the discipline.  After all, someone has to explain hockey’s rules about offsides, and why not me?

    But as Sean points out, there are still some people who think that activities other than peer-reviewed research aren’t worth bothering with.  Call it the Carl Sagan Aversion Syndrome.

    And Total, you’re right to remind us that even the most cloistered academics routinely show up in these public forums known as “classrooms,” peopled as so many of them are with laypersons and nonspecialists.  But there’s another reason to detach the discussion of blogging from the discussion of academic “relevance,” as well, and I hope Martin will agree:  there are certain academic subjects, ranging from the investigation of the topology of four-dimensional spheres to the analysis of Roman theories of law and interpretation, that will never meet the standard of “relevance,” and these subjects have a kind of merit that can’t be determined by appeal to the “public.” (More often, the appeal to the public on that score goes like this:  can you believe your tax/tuition dollars go to support this pointy-headed nonsense?) But as Sean’s work (among others) demonstrates, it’s possible to take even the most recondite speculations on the nature and origin of the universe and blog about them.  The academy should rightly be the home of all kinds of un-public and hyper-specialized kinds of work.  But it turns out—or it may yet turn out—that blogging is a medium in which even people who specialize in the topology of four-dimensional spheres or the analysis of Roman theories of law and interpretation might find a home—and a readership.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/11  at  06:21 PM
  17. There are these things that meet two or three times a week called “classes” in which most academics strenously attempt to bring laypeople into the discussion.

    Qu’ils mangent d’études!

    (That’s not what I meant when I wished someone would adopt a class analysis approach to this topic. Stupid monkey’s paw!)

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  10/11  at  06:24 PM
  18. Spectacular post. 

    When I was doing my PhD in the de(con)structed 80s, I was struck by how valuable some postmodern-theoretical perspectives were in helping to describe how langauge forms our ability to think, both individually and collectively.  Foucault’s work on discourse, for example, could have been more than an obscure rite-of-passage for graduate students, designed to give them a private langauge with which to ridicule the world.  It could have been taught as an elaboration of the classical field of Rhetoric—a field that everyone should learn something about if only for self-defense.

    And I wondered what the outcome might have been if we had spent at least a portion of our time teaching this stuff, instead of just deconstructing each other.  Why weren’t there freshman core courses in rhetorical manipulation and discursive formation, and other ways to distill the postmodern news-you-can-use?

    The generalist blog by the literature prof seems, belatedly, like a useful attack in this direction.  Surely, the success of this blog lies in its appeal who are non-academic but smart and curious—people who will never read your books but enjoy how your linguistic and literary expertise can illumate lives lived beneath the jackboots of normality. 

    This idea doesn’t heal the academic stigma of blogs, but does help to explain it.  If academia were to value blogs for their subliminal-education value, they would be on the slippery slope to actually valuing teaching.  And then the cats and dogs would cohabit, the ivy would crawl in the windows, and the whole academic enterprise would collapse into blinding relevance.

    Posted by Jarrett  on  10/11  at  06:24 PM
  19. "There are also those little marks at the end of papers called “grades” that too many academics use to tell laypeople that they don’t belong and will never measure up to what it takes to participate in the “real” conversations.”

    There’s this tiny little thing called “grade inflation” which suggests that the “too many academics” above actually consist of one lonely and bitter professor in a coffee house somewhere.

    This discussion is one of those worth having.  But basing it on generalized stereotypes and cliches ain’t going to make the conversation a thoughtful one.

    For example, is the Chicago political science department one which actually tenures its junior professors or (like Harvard) does it build itself by hiring at the associate or full professor level and ushering its assistant professors out the door?

    How many political science assistant professors at Chicago have gotten tenure in the last ten years?  Anyone know?

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  06:35 PM
  20. Hmph. Well, this future high school teacher just shut down his first blog for similar reasons. I would argue, in fact, that public schoolteachers feel even more pressure to not blog, but that’s a separate issue.

    Michael, on a completely unrelated note, I’m taking a class right now which covers teachers’ and districts’ legal responsibilities regarding special education issues, but conspicuously absent from the coursework is any sort of practical input from parents of special needs students – much less input from special needs students themselves.

    So my question is this: in general terms, what advice do you have for teachers in inclusive classrooms? What sorts of things do good teachers do to make inclusive classrooms . . . well . . .  inclusive? I fully support inclusiveness, I’m just curious to know how the good teachers out there create an environment that addresses all students’ needs.

    Maybe I’m just freaking out because I start my student teaching next semester, but I would really love some advice here. Email from you and/or random strangers is welcome.

    Posted by teacher dudie  on  10/11  at  06:43 PM
  21. There are also little things called money, privilege, good test scores, and good grades that are sometimes helpful in being able to attend the little “classes” and receive the little “grades” given out by some of the best sholars at some of our finest colleges and universities.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:00 PM
  22. But basing it on generalized stereotypes and cliches ain’t going to make the conversation a thoughtful one.

    Whereas basing it on the assumption that “people with access to college classes” equals “the public at large” is just fine.

    I mean, I know teaching is hard work, and I have absolutely nothing bad to say about anyone who chooses a career that involves trying to interest undergrads in topics they formerly knew little about. It’s Good Work, and ought to be held in much higher regard than it is.

    But teaching a college class is not the same as educating the public at large. I happen to know a few people with no more than a high school background who read, benefit from, and enjoy Michael’s blog, and PZ Myers’, and Sean’s - just to name the examples that spring to mind. To suggest that the dilemma Michael mentions is illusory because academics reach out to laypeople by teaching classes… well, that’s a perspective that would be altered by a couple years of driving a forklift without a handy round trip ticket back to white collar land.

    The laypeople in undergrad classes are a crucial audience, to be sure, but they’re the low-hanging fruit.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  10/11  at  07:01 PM
  23. The gatekeeping function of higher ed ain’t no cliche.  It’s what fuels the engines.  If it’s not gatekeeping through grades, then it’s overspecializations incapable of reaching undergraduates or excessive class sizes that are responsible for the attrition rates.

    Heck, you can even gatekeep by telling someone that their ideas are not “thoughtful” enough.  All sorts of subliminal ways to tell folks that they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute.

    And then the cats and dogs would cohabit, the ivy would crawl in the windows, and the whole academic enterprise would collapse into blinding relevance.

    Exactly.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:10 PM
  24. Responding to Total: The undergraduate students are what keep the enterprise afloat. They’re paying for the whole thing. I’m not so cynical to say that the only reason universities have classes is to finance sheltered study of this or that, but they’re clearly integral to the enterprise.

    Reponding to Michael: Yes, of course you are right. I didn’t mean to be quite so dogmatic about it. I think there are three things going on, the first is the policy that universities adopt, the second is the existence and/or necessity of very arcane areas of study, and the third is any individual’s feelings about the subject matter. The first two are related, and I’m really addressing the third, as it feeds into the first. Let me explain.

    I think it’s a structural problem that academics find a hundred ways to say “Go away” and only a handful of ways to say “Come and look.” One of the primary ways academics post a “Keep out” sign is through the use of jargon. While acknowledging the need for specialized vocabularies to address difficult concepts etc., the impenetrable writing that has become a badge of honor in some quarters is really unfortunate. I don’t want to sound too much like Sokal, but when lay people complain about unnecessarily difficult jargon and other tics you find in academic writing, they’ve really got a point, and I think academia as a whole has been slow to understand the depth of the point being made. If a layperson says “They’re basically telling me to go away,” who could argue with that?

    Now: on to policy and arcane subjects. If Drezner or someone like Drezner (or Berube) is being ridiculed or criticized for maintaining a blog or writing for the Village Voice, there’s no distinction being made about four-dimensional spheres or the analysis of Roman theories of law and interpretation—that’s a blanket policy or blanket opinion. Writing for the masses is bad—period; that is what I’m objecting to. If someone says, “It would be good to share all of this with as many people as possible, but it’s a really good thing that the small number of people for whom four-dimensional spheres are a passionate enterprise have the space they need to contemplate that”—that’s an entirely, categorically different point of view.

    Getting to the individual’s feelings about the matter. I think it’s understandable that academics want to feel protected from the arbitrary ridicule and funding that an indifferent public would impose. But when you get down to the individual academic and his or her area of study, I think that when an academic says, “Wow, this stuff is great! How can I get more people to be turned on by this!”—that’s a beautiful thing. When another academic says, “Wow, this stuff is great! I hope nobody ever finds out about it”—that’s something to be mourned.

    Maybe I’m delusional—the fact that entomology books will never appear on the best-seller lists isn’t an argument against entomology, after all. But that still doesn’t mean that the impassioned academic shouldn’t be encouraged to spread his or her wisdom around, not hide it away so only fellow experts can understand.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:14 PM
  25. in general terms, what advice do you have for teachers in inclusive classrooms? What sorts of things do good teachers do to make inclusive classrooms . . . well . . .  inclusive? I fully support inclusiveness, I’m just curious to know how the good teachers out there create an environment that addresses all students’ needs.

    teacher dudie, that is a huge question deserving of a separate post—which I’m going to write before too long, because it has something to do with Jamie’s experience of seventh grade.  Sorry to say “stay tuned,” but, well . . . stay tuned.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/11  at  07:15 PM
  26. Blogs may not exactly realize the ideal of the so-called public sphere, but I for one would very much like to think that at their best, they are on the path at least to something else, and something better.  In any case, this post struck me as a powerful statement concerning the worth of public intellectuals, but also about the proper grounds on which to measure them.  There seemed to be, in addition, if I am correctly reading betweeen the lines, the hint of a warning about any online model or hierarchy that would merely seek to recreate the pedigrees of institutionalized “higher learning.” Which is not to degrade the institution qua institution, of course!  After all, they may be the deciding factor in what determines whether we take responsibility for the potential of the internets, or abandon them for riteous paranoia.  Anyway, I liked this post.

    Posted by Matt  on  10/11  at  07:28 PM
  27. "Regardless of whether the blogging is to blame, per chance there is a larger perceived threat within the virtual enterprise of academic blogging, i.e., who needs to enroll in classes if all the prof’s are blogging their knowledge?  The decade-long tradition of posting syllabi and course materials online is relatively benign compared to the emergent pedagogical interactivity of blogs.  Perhaps universities do have something to fear ...”

    Frankly, I’m getting tired of this argument. First of all, the assertion that universities fear that blogs will replace them does not fit too well with the assertion that universities don’t like blogs because writing for the public isn’t rigorous enough.

    Secondly, blogs and interactive online courses can never replace real-life classroom interactions. I just don’t think that you can substitute an online discussion baord for an actual conversation.

    Finally, you can look at as many blogs written by faculty at Harvard as you want but you still won’t have a Harvard degree. Blogs simply cannot replace diplomas. In fact, MIT has realized that by posting lectures and class notes online, they can actually stimulate interest in the instiution. So, in conclusion, blogs are great, we should all keep blogging, but blogs will never make the university obsolete.

    Posted by Ben Schacht  on  10/11  at  07:30 PM
  28. "But teaching a college class is not the same as educating the public at large. I happen to know a few people with no more than a high school background who read, benefit from, and enjoy Michael’s blog, and PZ Myers’, and Sean’s - just to name the examples that spring to mind. To suggest that the dilemma Michael mentions is illusory because academics reach out to laypeople by teaching classes… well, that’s a perspective that would be altered by a couple years of driving a forklift without a handy round trip ticket back to white collar land.”

    Uh, if you think that I’m suggesting that “the dilemma Michael mentions is illusory” you’re not reading my posts.

    I’m suggesting that the presumption that earlier commenters seem to be laboring under--that non-weblogging academics are not reaching out to the public in any way, shape, or form--is patently incorrect.

    “Responding to Total: The undergraduate students are what keep the enterprise afloat. They’re paying for the whole thing. I’m not so cynical to say that the only reason universities have classes is to finance sheltered study of this or that, but they’re clearly integral to the enterprise.”

    Of course they’re integral to the enterprise!  Who said otherwise?  (Though tuition rarely covers expenses at major universities).  But that’s the point; professors profess, in their scholarly work and in the classroom.  And some in weblogs.  They do that at all sorts of institutions, from the U of C, to Penn State to the Reading Area Community College.  To suggest that academics without weblogs are somehow not reaching out to the public in anyway is to perpetuate a comforting, simplistic stereotype.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:34 PM
  29. I’m suggesting that the presumption that earlier commenters seem to be laboring under--that non-weblogging academics are not reaching out to the public in any way, shape, or form--is patently incorrect.

    And I was trying to suggest politely that your conflation of college classes with “the public” is myopic to the point of being insulting.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  10/11  at  07:38 PM
  30. Total: I didn’t say anything of the sort. I was referring to academics hostile to weblogs, which is an entirely different thing. All I meant was you can’t appeal to the existence of undergrad classes as evidence that academics are extraordinarily inclusive because without the students, there isn’t academia.

    It also reminds me a little of the Shakers, who do not reproduce—and, predictably, they’re dying out. Academics are smarter, they have a way of repopulating the brood. Undergraduate education is one component of that.

    Anyway, IMO we’re talking about academic research more than anything anyway. That is, work done by academics outside of the classroom. That is what is meant by “publish or perish,” and that’s what we’re talking about here. The noble efforts of professors in classrooms is a different subject.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:45 PM
  31. "To suggest that academics without weblogs are somehow not reaching out to the public in anyway is to perpetuate a comforting, simplistic stereotype.”

    I’m not sure if anyone said that.

    The larger point is that a lot of academics don’t reach out to the public, despite a myriad of ways to do so.  Blogging is just one way.  Just participating in the local community (volunteering, local politics), for example, is a good way for an academic to engage a larger public.

    I think that it’s pretty problematic to assume that teaching an undergraduate class is a way of addressing the public.  Higher education is (like blogging in some ways) elitist; the classroom does not act as a way of addressing a general public.

    Perhaps it would help to look at the “public intellectual” in a way that admits that there are multiple possible publics to address.  The ideal “public intellectual” would address as large a public as possible.  Blogging can only be a start.  It has the potential to address an incredibly large public, but it’s still exclusive to those with regular access to a computer.

    Posted by air  on  10/11  at  07:49 PM
  32. I never said/wrote that blogging will replace universities per se .  Not so long as the 2 to 3 letters in degrees and university branding constitute significant cultural & economic capital.  If anything, academic blogging exposes the gatekeeping function all the more since what is left for universities to promote —other than the name brand—after knowledge is electronically democratized?  I didn’t say, though, that it negates the powerful, people-sorting enterprise of degree-granting.  A degree from MIT remains a degree from MIT, if nothing else.

    First of all, the assertion that universities fear that blogs will replace them does not fit too well with the assertion that universities don’t like blogs because writing for the public isn’t rigorous enough.

    Yet fear of collapsing standards never seems far removed from the real fear of audience diversification and expansion. 

    Secondly, blogs and interactive online courses can never replace real-life classroom interactions. I just don’t think that you can substitute an online discussion baord for an actual conversation.

    Does actual conversation necessarily need to take place in an university classroom?

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:55 PM
  33. kd: Read Malcolm Gladwell’s recent piece in The New Yorker about the Harvard application process. Canada seems to get along just fine without any people-sorting process of that type.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  08:09 PM
  34. The Public Intellectual has a tough job: taking complex ideas and concepts and explaining them in simple language.

    Posted by Weaver  on  10/11  at  08:10 PM
  35. "I’m not sure if anyone said that.”

    I think that the implication was surely there.

    “The larger point is that a lot of academics don’t reach out to the public, despite a myriad of ways to do so.  Blogging is just one way.  Just participating in the local community (volunteering, local politics), for example, is a good way for an academic to engage a larger public.”

    As the implication is here.  How do you _know_ that a lot of academics don’t do that?  The academics I am familiar with do all of the things listed above and more:  from volunteering to public speaking to raising money for the victims of Katrina.

    “And I was trying to suggest politely that your conflation of college classes with “the public” is myopic to the point of being insulting.”

    And I’m suggesting that not realizing that college classes constitute one avenue to the public is insulting to students and professors everywhere, and that you’re reading into my comments your own prejudices and stereotypes.  Politely, of course.

    “All I meant was you can’t appeal to the existence of undergrad classes as evidence that academics are extraordinarily inclusive because without the students, there isn’t academia.”

    Yes.  Academia is designed and structured to bring large numbers of people into contact with the brightest minds (we can discuss whether they actually are) and to do so in a continuing and sustainable way.  And that’s not inclusive?

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  08:19 PM
  36. Whatevs, man. It doesn’t make hostility to blogging or writing in the mainstream press some kind of virtue.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  08:24 PM
  37. Total,

    If the classroom is “inclusive,” it includes imperfectly and incompletely.  College is designed to be a rite of passage and an act of credentialing, and as such, is sporadic and transitional.  Universities purposely structure their own justification as portals to something else so as not to offend their paying customers (taxpayers, tuition payers, alumni, slave...er graduate student labor).  If universities structured themselves primarily as “grand and open carnivals,” people would suspect that universities are just places of excess and decadence (!), rather than a place to learn and move on.  This transitory nature makes things like blogs (and other methods of “public intellectualism") absolutely critical.  Students, at best, will spend maybe 100 hours with a professor (a grand total of four uninterrupted days) and then move on with their life.  Moreover, this experience is bracketed as something that is supposed to lead to transformation away from that particular space.  As someone who “professes” myself, I find this distressing.  If someone “out there” will benefit from my expertise, or help me with their own expertise, I certainly don’t want to limit the possibility of exchange to a classroom of paying folk.  Nope, give me blog or give me bureaucratically-mandated death.

    Posted by DocMara  on  10/11  at  08:41 PM
  38. A few thoughts from an ex-academic.

    Rigorous, irrelevant research can be done by people outside of universities. I spend everyday with people who do it as well as their academic peers, although they tend to get lessrespect because their not in the academy.

    I just did a pre-tenure review for someone in my field. I was flattered that a credible department in a credible institution asked me to pass judgment on one their own. This person had an enromous number of pubs for a junior person, some published in very competitive journals. More than a few, though, were rigorous and irrelevant. The rigor tended to be rather superficial (e.g., using the rudiments of experiemental, but using a ludicrous sample from whom one could not generalize very much).

    Undergraduates do not necessarily keep the enterprise afloat. In many departments and some entire institutions, the undergraduates count far less than research grants, and their teaching is relegated to fellows and grad students. Even where undergrads are an important source of income (fields like psychology which usually have large numbers of majors and a variety of survey courses that are required or strongly advised for a number of other fields), grants and pubs tend to be far more important than teaching for tenure.

    In some fields, books, scholarly or otherwise, count for less than pubs.

    So the deck is stacked againt the public intellectual, yet that has not stopped acknowledged leaders in academic fields, people like B.F. Skinner in psychology or Richard Feynmann in physics, from writing for a popular audience, sometimes (as in Skinner’s case, writing fiction).

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  09:06 PM
  39. And I’m suggesting that not realizing that college classes constitute one avenue to the public is insulting to students and professors everywhere,

    Please see my remarks in comment #22.

    and that you’re reading into my comments your own prejudices and stereotypes.

    Now, see, this is another example of how many academics might benefit from actually talking to the unwashed masses like myself, especially as regards communication with said unwashed masses.

    As an editor (and former forklift operator), I have worked with many different kinds of writers. Some are schooled, some not. Brilliance cuts across all class boundaries.

    But there’s a writer’s mishap that - in my experience at least - is more prevalent among academic writers. That mishap lies in assuming that if the reader misapprehends the writer’s intent, the fault lies with the reader. Now, this is always a possibility. One cannot anticipate every possible misreading of a text. But the skilful writer will take pains to make sure that her intent is as clear to the halfway intelligent reader as possible.

    And like I said, writers who are reluctant to do so span all classes. But it’s the academic writers I’ve worked with - not uniformly by any stretch, but perhaps a plurality - who are most likely to regard the sorting out of ambiguity and possible multiple interpretations as the reader’s job rather than the writer’s.

    In this spirit of amicable exchange, then, I offer to you - at no cost - my professional services in this discussion.

    In response to the statement

    “Any position that supports quarantining academics from the world at large is, by extension, necessarily an argument in favor of the irrelevance of the academic project.”

    You replied:

    There are these things that meet two or three times a week called “classes” in which most academics strenously attempt to bring laypeople into the discussion.

    Let’s look at that first clause: “There are these things that meet two or three times a week called ‘classes’”. Ironically stating a fact of which the writer assumes his or her audience must already be aware is a common humorous trope. The trope’s humorous effectiveness relies on a perceived attitude of condescension, or, occasionally, of self-deprecation.

    It’s often a very funny technique: I rely on it myself, though my efforts do fail miserably from time to time. However, it’s very likely an ill-advised technique to use when attempting to rebut allegations of institutional elitism. To the lay reader, it can read as sincere condescension rather than a comedic device. I would advise a lighter hand.

    The tone unfortunately set, we proceed on to the meat of the statement:

    “classes”[,] in which most academics strenously attempt to bring laypeople into the discussion.

    Here we come up against what is likely an honest confusion in terms, similar to the “only a theory” phenomenon in the anti-biology movement. To a student of a specialized discipline, “laypeople” rightly connotes someone not in that discipline. When particle physicists talk about their specialty, “layperson” may well be used, rightly, to refer to the Dean of the anthropology department’s graduate division.

    But to the average non-academic - some of whom actually read Michael’s blog until he kicks me off - “layperson” often means something altogether different. In a sentence in which one has set up “laypeople” in opposition to “academics,” one might reasonably interpret “laypeople” to mean “non-academics.” It might even, reasonably, be interpreted to mean something along the lines of “regular guy.”

    And as the majority of people in North America have limited access to higher education, the suggestion that academics will reach “regular guys” by teaching college classes sets up a certain cognitive dissonance, spurring images of Marie Antoinette and grumbled comments about sleeping under bridges and stealing bread.

    Now the writer could respond to this confusion by invoking a false syllogism ("you said most regular guys don’t see the inside of a college classroom, therefore you think the people who see the inside of a college classroom are not regular guys"). But that does not advance the writer’s meaning, which - one presumes - was the point of writing in the first place.

    In cases such as this, I’ve found it best to attempt to restate the original thesis rather than digging in to defend it. Thus one could re-write the statement thusly:

    “I think you may be forgetting that undergraduate instruction constitutes a major way in which non-specialists can gain exposure to a discipline.”

    That’s non-combative, to the point, and gives abundant and proper credence to the hard and crucially important work of both the instructor, and the students doing the work of learning.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  10/11  at  09:06 PM
  40. Martin...thanks for mentioning Gladwell’s recent piece.  I too can’t understand this obsession with the Ivy League brand (or even yes, bharvani, the wannabee Ivy’s).  Since moving to the States I’ve encountered high school students who think of little else but accruing enough volunteer work and other gold stars to be considered worthy of entrance to one of these “highly selective” institutions.  As far as I can tell their main motivation is not to study but rather to be selected.  It seems to me that perhaps part of the hesitation among some professors to accept blogging as legitimate (or at least benign) comes from an impulse for institutional and status brand management rather than an impulse to protect the quality of scholarly discussion.  I mean imagine the damage to the experience of belonging to an Ivy League elite if everyone had access to Harold Bloom’s thoughts on eliminating the two-line pass rule.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  09:31 PM
  41. The scrutiny from my blog is beyond peer review or other “juries of my peers.” Everyone in and beyond my and my family’s circle has read it. Blogging has been a, well, lovely way for me to combine the Classics me and the autism mom (even though I technically have a separate blog for the Classics side, I seem mostly to use it to post homework assignments and small notes about “Classics in the news” for my students). It’s the personal is the political is the professional is the public (if not published).

    Posted by Kristina Chew  on  10/11  at  09:31 PM
  42. As a publicist for a university press I’d like to say that when one of my authors is a blogger (or even knows what a blog is) I do cartwheels. It usually means they are in touch with the “public” and have a better sense of their market than those who can’t email me an attachment and write their author questionnaires in longhand. Of course I’m generalizing and being a bit snippy but that’s because this season I have no bloggers on my list.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  09:47 PM
  43. Crap, an intelligent comment eaten by the machine.  Let us reconstruct.

    I think that anti-blogging prejudice in academe is probably of a piece with divisions between low and high, canonical and popular that are as old as academe itself.  I’m not as optimistic as you are, Michael, that such prejudice will wither away; it seems to me that a certain suspicion of / distance from the public/popular is intrinsic to our conception of the academic, just as the concept of “society as a whole” is intrinsic to the bourgeois state (think Habermas). 

    Which isn’t to say that we might not see distinctions and hierarchies emerge in academic blogging--indeed, they already are.  It’s not hard to imagine “Serious Blogging” of the Drezner/Carroll sort “counting” in some institutions at some point; it is, though, hard to imagine “personal” (or, as you termed it once, “raw") blogging, or pseudonymous blogging, or blogging that is critical of some aspects of academe, counting in most departments (perhaps, in some cases, in an MFA program).

    Posted by bitchphd  on  10/11  at  09:58 PM
  44. Like you, Michael Berube, I blog under my real name.  I started blogging about a year ago, before I got tenure, but I didn’t get publicly “outed” as a blogger (by a colleague who was supposedly a friend, no less - ouch, that smarted) until after, thank goodness.  My advice, worth what the reader has paid for it (remarkably close to nothing) is to avoid attributional blogging before tenure. It gives people who are misogynist, or jealous of you, or whatever, a potential weapon.  It sure is fun, though! And one of my absolute favorite blogs is this one, which my tenure committee could only have looked upon favorably, had they known.  I’m writing a paper about blogging as a law prof that I will present next summer on a panel organized by my friend Ellen Podgor of White Collar Crime Prof Blog (http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/) Do we have stories! And, luckily, tenure…

    Posted by Ann Bartow  on  10/11  at  10:46 PM
  45. Call it the Carl Sagan Aversion Syndrome.

    And God bless Carl, the patron saint of all slandered popularizers. I feel a blog entry coming on…

    Posted by Brooke  on  10/11  at  11:22 PM
  46. Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have put up this post and then run out to play hockey tonight.  Sorry about that.  Then again, I expect my department and college to take my hockey into account when they conduct their five-year review of me next year.  (But not my blogging!  That would be wrong.)

    I can’t respond to the entire thread, of course, but I do want to call attention to something I completely neglected to mention, because I didn’t think of it until the middle of tonight’s game.  Fortunately, Dr. B. thought of it for me:

    Which isn’t to say that we might not see distinctions and hierarchies emerge in academic blogging—indeed, they already are.  It’s not hard to imagine “Serious Blogging” of the Drezner/Carroll sort “counting” in some institutions at some point; it is, though, hard to imagine “personal” (or, as you termed it once, “raw") blogging, or pseudonymous blogging, or blogging that is critical of some aspects of academe, counting in most departments (perhaps, in some cases, in an MFA program).

    Yes, without question.  Serious Blogging (which is not really opposed to Raw Blogging, and besides, the whole raw/cooked thing was just a riff off of Robert Lowell’s 1960 speech at the National Book Awards) will undoubtedly assume a higher place in academic blogging hierarchies than Occasionally Silly Blogging, because the real question about blogs (when it emerges and becomes coherent) is whether they are effective forms of intellectual exchange.

    But more importantly, Dr. B.’s point repeats and intensifies a point that queer theorist and NYU history professor Lisa Duggan made to me many years ago, and which I quoted in that Social Text essay:  namely, that the problem with recognizing “public intellectual” work in any form, print media or blog, is that so much of the academic estimation of the “intellectual” part of the enterprise depends on our academic estimation of precisely which fraction of the “public” is involved.  Or, as Lisa put it, far more concretely, “it depends in part on which public you’re writing for.  It obscures a lot of differences to say you’re ‘writing for the public,’ when you could be writing for The New Republic or for the Gay Community News.  In the field of history, it can be prestigious to publish in The American Prospect, where you’re writing for that well-educated public.  But it won’t be nearly so prestigious if you’re writing for what’s perceived to be a subcultural community of some kind.” The question of the merit of “public intellectual” work, in other words, can all too easily be displaced onto the question of the merit of specific publics.

    Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics is relentlessly smart about all this, by the way.  Though Warner does not mention blogging.  Anyway, Lisa was right then and she’s right now, which is why we’re replaying the same structural and substantive problems with Habermas’s conception of the public sphere.

    Oh, and note to American Prospect fans:  Lisa said this in 1992, way back when TAP was in its infancy.  I also interviewed Paul Starr around this time (for an essay that never saw the light of day), and asked him what it was like to start a “public” journal for liberal intellectuals, and he told me (rough quote) that the running joke for the first year was that they should call themselves The American Prospect:  A Refereed Journal so as to protect their writers from various forms of academic snobbery.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/11  at  11:30 PM
  47. This topic brought out a lurker / occasional reader.  Blogging, like editorial or other forms of public writing, should go under *service*, not research: specifically, public service.  (And, of course, under teaching too when used for classes; great innovation!)

    The point is that we should not be arguing for blogging, etc., to count as research; we should be arguing for it as public service.

    Paul

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  11:49 PM
  48. Michaels’ #46 and Paul Turpin’s #47 remind me of something rather obvious: the range of opinions on blogging may be vast; blogging itself vaster still.

    There are all kinds of blogs. The idea of counting as “service” a blog about Professor X’s obsession with philately seems absurd; it shouldn’t count as anything, neither service nor research.

    It occurs to me that blogging lends itself to certain disciplines (jurisprudence, economics) and not very well to others (four-dimensional spheres). Michael’s discipline, lit crit, probably ranks as a fairly blog-friendly one—but you have to be as good at it as Michael is to make it work! If I had a link to a page to 100 prof-led lit-crit blogs, would that be an appetizing prospect? How many do you think you’d enjoy? I can’t speak for any of you, but this non-academe says damn few.

    Basically, I guess what I’m saying is, profs with the gift of profitably conducting discussions in blog form with a large readership should be encouraged to do so. The others.... not so much. (It shouldn’t count against one, anyway.)

    Blogs are slippery things, and even the most well-intentioned and -informed blog might seem like wankery to others if the audience doesn’t follow, or some other such malign influence. The prejudice against it isn’t entirely unfounded.

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  12:21 AM
  49. I figure (you being in the humanities and all) that your colleagues have already figured out that you (and co-blogger Janey, for that matter) are smart, funny and human.

    As long as they don’t object to the rest of us finding out, you’ll be OK.

    Posted by julia  on  10/12  at  12:42 AM
  50. Dammit. I meant Janet, of course. Me with the typos.

    Posted by julia  on  10/12  at  12:43 AM
  51. Michael, I want to second (or third or fiftieth) a belief that anti-blogging bias in academia is going to look pretty reactionary if not just silly in about 15 years.

    I’ve written about the production of knowledge, universities, anxiety, and blogging in a collection of essays about the blogosphere. I hope more people come to the conclusion that blogging is already (not simply will be) an important part of how universities go about doing what they do.

    And in the spirit of that essay and this website, I would love to know what people think ...

    Posted by Tyler  on  10/12  at  08:42 AM
  52. A friend of mine who is working on his PhD at a prestigious school on the East coast, and who has occasionally published op-ed pieces on matters of national security in the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, and other newspapers, has been encouraged to stop doing so by his academic mentors. For the same reason: writing to the public detracts from the perception of academic seriousness. And folks wonder why there are so few “public intellectuals” in the US… I don’t know how this ridiculous idea got into the ivory tower, but I’d like to remind people that Umberto Eco has a column in the Italian equivalent of Time magazine.

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  11:00 AM
  53. i’m not sure what “specifically about the blog” might mean (comment by dali yang, see above), but might it refer to an attitude drezner held that was given air on his blog?  let’s imagine that drezner had racist writings or images on his blog (and he did not) - would that be “specifically about the blog?”

    well, one of my questins about drezner’s judgement was in his posting pictures of his stable of hollywood hotties - selma hyack, sarah michelle geller, katie holmes, etc.  below is a link to one of the photos, i would say the least tasteful.  i can imagine being in one of drezner’s classrooms and being uncomfortable knowing how he objectifies women on his blog; assuredly this could be more uncomfortable for a woman.  is this creating a hostile classroom environment?  could it be that the committee took this into account?

    http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002125.html#002125

    jonk

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  11:09 AM
  54. I would be very interested to know how this compares across academic cultures and disciplines.  My rough guess is that American economists would probably be well served by blogging, because they have a history of engaging with the public.  Martin Feldstein, for example, has been writing op-ed pieces for a long time.  English academic economists ( at least since Keynes) are stereotyped by professional economic forecasters as being awkward, poor communicators who don’t know how to deal with media types, the public, or the dirty world of commerce.

    Does anyone know anything about the state of French blogging, by French academics that is.  I’m pretty ignorant in this area, but I’ve always had the impression that the Frogs had far more public intellectuals.  Does this extend to their university professors?

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  12:04 PM
  55. While I don’t know the state of French blogging, in Italy (if I am not mistaken) only professional journalists may set up their own blogs.  I am not sure if this information is accurate, and I know that at any rate Italians have gotten around it.

    Adding to peanut’s comment, yes, Umberto Eco has written weekly commentary in L’Espresso for years now.  Also consider that the center-left PM candidate for next year’s elections, Romano Prodi, is also an Economics professor at the University of Bologna. 

    By comparing Italy in this case to the U.S., we run against another problem, namely the long-time American public distrust of intellectuals.  I can’t imagine what would happen if an Econ prof dared to make herself or himself a presidential candidate. 

    The problem really runs two ways:  the institutional pressure to control intellectual production, circumscribing it within the academy, and popular distrust of academic meddling in the public sphere.  Blogging is of course the best way around both problems since it can be done anonymously and the public is self-selecting.

    Blogging anonymously doesn’t resolve the problem, though.  I was reminded of a (tenured) professor at the university where I did my Ph.D.:  she was told by another faculty member not to continue painting and doing performance art after being hired as an art historian.  Because as we all know, art production is not nearly as serious as academic writing about art.

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  12:38 PM
  56. Oh, and Jarrett (comment 18), thanks for the kind words and for the remark about Foucault and rhetoric.  You probably know, though, that in the past ten years or so there’s been a mess of work on Foucault’s idea of discourse and the rhetorical tradition.  But this morning when I read over Surely, the success of this blog lies in its appeal who are non-academic but smart and curious—people who will never read your books but enjoy how your linguistic and literary expertise can illumate lives lived beneath the jackboots of normality, I said, wait just a second—you folks are never going to read my books?

    Only kidding.  Smart and curious readers, that’s the key.  And being slow on the uptake and all, I took most of 2004 to realize just how much these blogs could do with/ for smart and curious readers.

    But about the question of blogs competing with universities, a cautionary word:  in the course of writing the book whose working title is now What’s So Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, I tried to reproduce my class preps for, and a few class discussions of, some of the novels I teach in the undergrad Am Lit survey.  The result:  I learned to my surprise that writing out an intro to even one week of such class prep and discussion takes about 3000 words.  (So I’ve got a 12,000-word chapter on four novels—just a bare-bones intro to only half a course.)

    Peanut, my sense is that the “perception of academic seriousness” bugaboo is strongest in the most elite schools.  I’ve had a pretty charmed existence on this score—my career hasn’t been hurt by “public” writing, it’s been damn near defined by “public” writing.  But there are still some places, and some disciplines, where such writing is considered “journalism,” and uttered properly in the right precincts, “journalism” is a very bad word.  I think there’s no question that journalists and academics have an intense sibling-rivalry thing going on.

    Tyler, thanks for the link!  I encourage everyone to check it out.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/12  at  12:51 PM
  57. Ask Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin about this whole “serious” vs. “popular” attitude in academe.  I believe she is quite certain that her production of popular fiction and non-fiction deprived her of a shot at tenure (long before she had a blog).

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  05:21 PM
  58. Oooh.  A topic near and dear to my heart.  As someone who is at this very moment stepping into the academic job racket with a whole passel of “journalistic” writings and few to no “academic” ones (working on it...), I expend more brain cells on this than is probably healthy. (I should say that I’ve never been dissuaded from my interest in pursuing public writing.)

    Off the top of my head, I think the future of the academy--in the humanities at least-- depends on dispelling this “intense sibling rivalry” between journalists and academics. As Clare’s post #42 indicates, each season academic publishers are looking to publish more books that appear to be written by someone who can communicate with a larger audience, and thus, hopefully, sell a little.  This has both negative and positive ramifications of course. (All of which are debatable, chief among the unsavory effects is no doubt the fact that we may have to suffer more books on how this or that vegetable changed the world.) But one of the little-mentioned side effects of this market-led discipline in publishing may be the crisis that results when the demand for more and more cloistered, monographic, insular writing by tenure committees (do I hear two books for tenure, anyone?) begins to meet the presses’ unwillingness to actually publish the stuff.  Ask any early American literature scholar-- book contracts are harder and harder to find, no matter the writer’s Kipnisian “style,” for a genre that doesn’t get the cash registers jumping.

    Academic humanities departments have to find ways to address this--and simply falling back on an unmitigated defense of “Research” and “Scholarship” is not going to cut it.  This is not to say that these should not be at the center of the academy.  At their best, obviously they provide insight, complexity, and depth that popular writing can’t touch; but couple routine academic clock-punching with Kipnis’ boredom quotient and it’s no surprise why most people can’t figure out what it is we do that’s of any use.

    Universities in general are trying to find more and more ways to expand beyond their borders, to have more of a role in public life.  Why hasn’t this penetrated the humanities tenure process yet?

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  05:45 PM
  59. But about the question of blogs competing with universities, a cautionary word:  in the course of writing the book whose working title is now What’s So Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, I tried to reproduce my class preps for, and a few class discussions of, some of the novels I teach in the undergrad Am Lit survey.  The result:  I learned to my surprise that writing out an intro to even one week of such class prep and discussion takes about 3000 words.  (So I’ve got a 12,000-word chapter on four novels—just a bare-bones intro to only half a course.)

    Yet isn’t this a uni-directional assemblage of knowledge? What about puttting students to the research task in a wikipedia-sort of fashion—and then see how this compares to the class prep?

    Not only a matter of competing with universities; rather, a matter of radically reconfiguring education as a whole ...

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  07:28 PM
  60. Dennis Miller wannabes

    Uh, mebbe, but better Dennis Miller- wannabes than Mike Royko- neverbes

    Posted by Bing Bada Boom  on  10/13  at  06:19 PM
  61. It’s not just blogs and writing in established “public” venues that are looked down upon, but self-publishing which, on the web, is providing wonderful new possibilities.

    No longer is it simply “vanity” to publish on one’s own (and of course, even in the past, some of what came to be know as “great” works were self-published--Leaves of Grass comes immediately to mind).  If one has something to say, and wants to reach a wider audience than academic journals and even presses can reach, why not self-publish?  “Print-On-Demand” has wide possibilities for reaching an audience.  Let the work be judged on its own merits, not simply on what press it comes from.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  10/15  at  01:53 PM
  62. Your name was just used (in vain) on NPR’s “Wait, wait. Don’t tell me.” One of the decoy multiple-choice answers (about a security situation that went awry) featured a Canadian comic named Michael Berube who did the safety announcements on an Air Canada flight, as part of an experiment. Supposedly, he had insulted customers and left out important parts of the safetly instructions.

    Posted by Jim Lyttle  on  07/25  at  05:25 PM
  63. I follow both of there blogs and have learned a lot, I think blogging is the latest greatest invention in this new age.  I always can’t wait what’s next Carroll and Drezner’s blogs.

    Posted by Charles  on  03/29  at  06:17 AM
  64. This has both negative and positive ramifications of course. (All of which are debatable, chief among the unsavory effects is no doubt the fact that we may have to suffer more books on how this or that vegetable changed the world.) But one of the little-mentioned side effects of this market-led discipline in publishing may be the crisis that results when the demand for more and more cloistered, insular writing by tenure committees (do I hear two books for tenure, anyone?) begins to meet the presses’ unwillingness to actually publish the stuff.

    Posted by pose chauffe-eau  on  05/16  at  02:55 PM
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