I was interviewed on Monday by Scott Jasich an editor of Inside Higher Ed, the online newspaper. He wanted to ask me my opinion about the case of Daniel Drezner, a highly-regarded and well-published academic who was recently denied tenure at the University of Chicago. Many have speculated that his blog was an important reason for this denial.
Here is part of his response on his blog, with himself as the “ed.”
[Wait a minute, you can’t leave it at that. What happened? What the hell happened? Why didn’t you get tenure? Was it your failure to anchor yourself within a clearly established theoretical paradigm? A lack of respect from peers in your IPE subfield? Too much output? A declining respect of your subfield by your tenured colleagues? The departmental turn away from mainstream political science scholarship? Your political orientation? Jealousy of your public intellectual status? WAS IT THE FRIGGIN’ BLOG??!!–ed.] My answers in order: I dunno, perhaps, probably not, maybe, I guess so, a little, could be, I seriously doubt it, and who the hell knows? Any decent social scientist must allow for multiple causes, so it’s not necessarily an either/or question. At the moment, I simply lack the data to confirm or deny any explanation.
I agree that it is simply impossible to know what causes denial of tenure, especially when there has been no discussion or indication ahead of time that there were concerns. In a blog previous to his denial of tenure, he stated:
The academic job market, as I’ve witnessed it, is a globally rational but locally capricious system.
Drezner has blogged on the issue of how blogging is seen by academia many times before. He entered into the debate about the article by the pseudonymous Ivan Tribble, who wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
What is it with job seekers who also write blogs?
Tribble goes on to state:
The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.
This led an alarmed Drezner to comment:
…do not hire anyone ever again.
The comments to Drezner’s blog regarding his denial of tenure were supportive. One reader wrote:
“Even at my top-ranked and technologically progressive university, I find that the tenured faculty members in our political science dept. have a very conservative view towards new technological approaches. None of them use PowerPoint, listen/assign podcasts, have/read blogs, etc. And suggestions to start a departmental blog or regular podcasts of visiting speakers has been met with a genuine lack of enthusiasm.
We have some striking similarities to UC, so could be that some Dan’s “peers” likewise found his blog to be not worthy of an academic. Or were even simply jealous/derisive of the popularity he gained from it: “Why does everyone listen to this young kid all of a sudden…*I’m* the great academic”
Another points out:
Scholasticism has never been particularly friendly to renaissance nor renaissance men.
I like this reader’s quote:
I’ll never forget a comment from a high-powered philosopher at Princeton, he said, “I’ve never known anyone to be denied tenure for academic reasons.”
So What’s a Blogger to Do?
Watch What You Write
I’ve been amazed at the blogs written by both grad students and professors, in which the writers were not as careful as was Drezner to leave out personal issues and opinions. The same would go for posts to public forums.
In 2002 I posted a response on a public forum – I had asked about the safety of using pastels. When you search “Gina Hiatt” in quotes (not that I would ever Google my own name), you will find on the 2nd page a link to my question. Apparently that link will be there forever. Thankfully, I was very polite.
Years from now, when you are in the 5th year of your tenure-track position, will you want your blog about hating a certain professor showing up on a search of your name?
There’s No Such Thing as Anonymous
As I stated in the interview for Inside Higher Ed, I don’t believe that it’s possible to keep a blog anonymous. Friends who know your blog today may not be your friends some day. The curious can easily follow a chain of hints about your field, the weather, when you go to conferences, etc. to figure out who you are. So pay attention to my comments above and be circumspect in what you post.
Watch Your Time Online
The same is true of any kind of online time – don’t overdo it. I’m sure that currently tenured academics see evidence of extensive blogging as evidence of time not spent writing for publication. It doesn’t matter if that’s not true – as a matter of fact, I’m very positive about the idea of people connecting around scholarly ideas, whether on the Internet or in person. Just avoid the appearance of undo amounts of time writing in the blogosphere.
And be sure, for your own sake, that blogging (and reading blogs) doesn’t become another form of “addiction” that takes time away from your real work. Just like a glass of wine with dinner: it might be good for your health and social connections, help you unwind and write in a more relaxed manner, – but only when partaken in moderation.
I Approve of Blogging!
I feel the need to emphasize that I think blogging is a wonderful way for the academic community to get closer and exchange valuable ideas that would never see the light of day in the normal course of academic light. An excellent article in the Chronicle by Henry Farrell said it well:
But to dismiss blogging as a bad idea altogether is to make an enormous mistake. Academic bloggers differ in their goals. Some are blogging to get personal or professional grievances off their chests or… to pursue nonacademic interests. Others, perhaps the majority, see blogging as an extension of their academic personas. Their blogs allow them not only to express personal views but also to debate ideas, swap views about their disciplines, and connect to a wider public. For these academics, blogging isn’t a hobby; it’s an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.
I think that one day we will all look back and laugh at the antiquated notions that some tenured faculty apparently have about blogs, just like we think how silly those people were that believed that “horseless carriages” would never catch on.
In the mean time, watch your step in the blogosphere.
This seems like an opportune time to let you know that I have rechristened my blog and will now start posting more frequently. I’ll begin with some shortened comments on this blogging issue. You can find my blog here: Academiblog. Please check it out and comment!
© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully. Get Gina’s free assessments & ezine at www.academicladder.com