Anti-Blogging in Academia

Bitch PhD noticed this anti-blogging article at the Chronicle for Higher Education. The author, a recent search committee member, reveals his (her? She’s pseudonymous, but claims “Ivan” as her first name) and his fellow committee-member’s distaste for what they found when they looked at their candidate’s blogs. Dr. Bitch does a good job of exposing Ivan’s pettiness, but I wanted to add just a couple of things.

For instance, while Ivan clearly reserves great scorn for applicants who include their blog addresses in their CV, when applicants didn’t include them, the committee went looking for them anyway: “In some cases, a Google search of the candidate’s name turned up his or her blog. Other candidates told us about their Web site, even making sure we had the URL so we wouldn’t fail to find it. In one case, a candidate had mentioned it in the cover letter. We felt compelled to follow up in each of those instances…”. See, they felt compelled to Google the candidate, even though Ivan (and his fellow committee members, for whom Ivan accurately and reliably speaks) feels “… it’s best for job seekers to leave their personal lives mostly out of the interview process.”

This suggests that the real response to the knowledge that small-minded committee members may read your blog is not to write one — because even if you are strictly careful not to complain about your job or your colleagues or your students, Ivan and his crew are going to assume that you not will be so careful in the future, anyway. The mere fact that you have a weblog is enough to scare off the weak-hearted among the search committees.

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Ivan puts it this way: “The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one’s unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world?” And then proceeds immediately to answer his own question: “It’s not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it’s also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.” Kind of like, oh, I don’t know… teaching, academic writing, the use of committees of faculty members to select new faculty, and the Chronical for Higher Education, right? It’s not hard to imagine positive uses for these activities or institutions, but it’s also not so hard to find negative uses.

One of the things that so exercises poor Ivan is the permanence of blogs. After all, “We’ve all done it — expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we’re giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend. There is a slight risk that the opinion might find its way to the wrong person’s attention and embarrass us. Words said and e-mail messages sent cannot be retracted, but usually have a limited range. When placed on prominent display in a blog, however, all bets are off.” What Ivan is saying here (let me parse it for you) is that we the members of your search committee really don’t care if you say idiotic things in class because the only people that might hear you say them are your students, and teachers don’t exist for the benefit of their students. We your search committee are more concerned with what you might do in your “off-time” that could potentially embarass us (as pseudonymous Ivan must have done for his school in writing his Chronicle article).

Stop and think about that. The ramifications of an idiotic post outweigh the ramifications of faulty teaching.

What Ivan is really arguing for is less efficient search committee-ing. “We all have quirks,” he writes. “In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction.” Because without this kind of deceit, how can a search committee hope to choose the kind of idiot that will retain his/her most idiotic ramblings for the classroom? Given the honest appraisal of a candidate’s quirks a blog makes possible, Ivan would rather go with the candidate who of course has quirks (because “we all have quirks”) but who keeps them well-hidden until he has the job.

And if that isn’t the best way to run an academic institution, I don’t know what is.

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