Thursday, July 21, 2005

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Online screw-ups affecting the workplace -- continued

The theme of posting one's thoughts online deleteriously affecting one's worklife continues apace -- first graduate students, then nannies, and now... shudder... adjunct university professors.

Joe Strupp explains for Editor & Publisher:

A former Boston Herald sports writer, who was laid off in May as part of a string of newsroom cutbacks, now has lost his part-time teaching job at Boston University after posting Web comments about a student, which described her as "incredibly hot."

Michael Gee, an 18-year veteran of the Herald, confirmed the incident, but declined comment to E&P Friday. Bob Zelnick, chair of the B.U. journalism department, said he heard about Gee's posting on Wednesday from a university publicist, who had received a phone call about it from a blogger....

The comments, which appeared on, but were later removed, included the following: "Today was my first day teaching course 308/722 at the Boston University Dept. of Jounralis (sic). There are six students, most of whom are probably smarter than me, but they DON'T READ THE PAPER!!! Not the Globe, Times, Herald or Wall Street Journal. I can shame them into reading, I guess, but why are they taking the course if they don't like to read.

"But I digress. Now here's the nub of my issue. Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn't you know it?) is incredibly hot. If you've ever been to Israel, she's got the sloe eyes and bitchin' bod of the true Sabra. It was all I could do to remember the other five students. I sense danger, Will Robinson."

Word of Gee's firing, and a copy of his posting, first appeared on

Via Over at CNET's new and interesting workplace blog, Paul Festa thinks this is another example of bloggers gone wild -- however, as David Scott points out:

For those wondering,, in a nutshell, is a place where sports desk editors, as well as sportswriters and others, vent over how crummy this paper or that columnist is. Itís also a networking spot to get info on the latest openings and movement at papers across the country. Like most message boards, it serves a purpose and then serves the fellowship of the miserable even more.

Strictly speaking, Gee wasn't blogging -- furthermore, it was a blogger who apparently called him out.

[And would you have done the same thing if you had read Gee's post?--ed. Given that Gee posted this in a public forum, yep, you betcha. Er, haven't you occasionally evinced an ocular interest in the fairer sex on this blog?--ed. It's one thing to point out that a public figure has pleasing features when. in part, that's why they are public figures -- it's another thing entirely to publicly make the same point about someone over whom you hold an authority relationship. There are certain bright lines in my job, and that's one of them.]

posted by Dan on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM


It is true that you don't write posts which describe students in a sexual light and admirably restrict yourself to celebrities (and smart ones at that- I enjoyed the link to the story about diana mckellar). However, I do think you underestimate the possible sensitivities of your students as well as the committee reviewing you for tenure.

When going to your office hours, your female students might wonder what's going on in your mind, specifically whether you're entertaining thoughts of them in a swimsuit. Some of them will view your posting of scantily clad women as offensive or degrading. While this may be an overreaction, you certainly must know it will happen. There's still enough discrimination against women (or the memory of it) in academia to make young women particularly attentive to signs that their intellect is not being taken seriously. The pics may send that signal to some of them. Why take that risk?

Your blog is in almost every other way completely professional. The pics are a glaring and odd exception to this rule. I think you should consider retiring that particular feature of the site. And don't worry, it's the internet: I, along with the rest of your readers, will have no trouble finding pictures of hot, scantily clad people elsewhere.

posted by: anonymous on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

I know Gee fairly well. We were classmates at Wesleyan 30+ years ago and played in a band for a few years afterward. And I spent a long weekend with him and his wife at a band reunion a few summers ago.

Despite the lurid saloon rocker image, this is a sweet, civilized guy, not a leering jackass. His predicament reminds me of the anti-semitism allegations against Gregg Easterbrook a while ago when he made some careless remarks in a blog.

Oddly enough, an hour or so before I learned the news about Gee I had posted the news to TPM Cafe that Sen. Obama had hired Samantha Power as a foreign policy aide. There was an almost immediate comment asking if she was the "hot redhead" who appears frequently on Charlie Rose's show.

This was my reply:
"An old friend was summarily fired yesterday from a teaching job at BU's J-school for blogging a juvenile remark about a "hot" student so I'll refrain from that.

"But to string together some innocent physical remarks, she's a polished talking head who doesn't come off as a hand-wringing bleeding heart.

And her hair is red."

posted by: Mark Paul on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

I, for one, would be disappointed if your blog did not continue to appreciate Selma Hayek as much as -- if not more than -- Frederick. Although a super-feminist with some arbitrary grudge against you _could_ conceivably turn it against you, you have the fact that your blog is 99% serious politics to counteract that. You don't expose details about your bosses, co-workers, or students; you don't tell us about your personal dramas; you don't post your awful poetry. This is what separates you from the thousands of other "bloggers" who use it is a disturbingly public forum to pour their hearts out, not a means to exploring ideas.

posted by: Ben on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

I agree with anonymous' post above. Your blog has become a strange mixture of very professional, thoughtful, academically relevant posts and in between some private, superficial, un-academic posts. It not only probably would be good for your academic career to separate them both more carefully, but it also would help your academic posts to gain more respectfulness.

posted by: polsci man on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

i agree with anonymous, it would not be difficult to imagine students and peers might take offense of his objectification of women.

this, i believe, is drezner's first defense of his posting crass pictures of (typically young, student aged) women on his blog, and the best he can do is that he doesn't have photos of his students or call them out as hotties? this seems awfully naive.

however, there are two additional points of interest: first, that drezner "would have done the same thing" and turned gee in - is this to imply that he would be comfortable having his posts brought to the attention of his tenure committee (have you been up yet?), department head, dean, various university offices.

second, after his latest, exceptionally crass crotch shot of katie holmes, he seems to have taken note of previous criticism by passing over the opportunity to post a photo of someone called dancia, assuredly worthy of his "occular interest" [please], as he has posted a photo of this nubile woman before.

posted by: jonk on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

Lighten up people. Everyone I remember seeing pictured on this blog is not only a "public figure" but is also someone whose looks are a big part of their professional lives. "Being hot" gets them jobs, and they know it.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

Blogging about a student, if there was any information identifying the student (directly or indirectly), is a violation of federal law.

AS far as pictures of female celebrities, I enjoy looking sometimes, although I am too old to remember why.

Time for my Geritol.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

andrew, your point is ridiculous. folks in porn make their living by fucking, would that make it appropriate for drezner to post pictures of folks fucking on his blog, if they were employees of the porn industry? i think not.

you are also completely ignoring the fact, by dan's admission, that his role as professor carries power over his students. his posting photos of young, "hot" women - even crotch-shots - helps define the relationships he has with his students and peers. the photos arguably perpetutate a hostile environment against women.

to ben, that drezner's blog is "99% serious politics" does not counteract the fact that he publishes objectifying photos of women. instead, as i stated above, the serious posts that nearly fill drezner's blog neccesitates that his students read the blog. in fact, drezner has commented on the importance of the blog in forming thoughts, doing research, etc. - any student of his would be foolish not to participate in the conversation. that said, they are being exposed to what some people likely find offensive objectification of women - i do. if the 1% of objectionable material was more inflammatory, this would likely not be a difficult issue. instead, drezner is trading on the socially acceptable demaning of women by objectifying them as objects of "occular interest."

posted by: jonk on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

"Any student of his would be foolish not to participate in the conversation"? Does every undergrad who has him in the social science core suddenly rush to comment on his blog, since outsourcing and the value of the dollar are so relevant to a reading of Hobbes and Locke? Because he shows his admiration for some models with the occasional link, will these undergrads then suddenly envision him fantasizing about them nude while in seminar? The only truly safe solution would be to castrate and sterilize him -- you know how all men are just evil predators deep down inside anyway.

Perhaps, however, you're right. There are people like you pathetic and humorless enough to be "offended" by Drezner's occasional break from academics. Even UChicago, I'm sure, is populated with many students and professors like you, looking to insiduously demean and destroy anybody who does not conform to your silly and righteous agenda. One should avoid as much as possible providing fodder to be twisted to your ends.

Hopefully none of my young female professors ever express sexual attraction to a male movie star. I would immediately conclude that she is a superficial person and probably will grade me on my "hunkiness" rather than my academic ability. Then I will go home and cry.

posted by: Ben on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

It's kind of amusing that conservatives (some)will be the first to trash a liberal who points out that some women might find trashy pictures of women to be demeaning. And, conversely, it is conservatives who then point to liberals as the source of all the trash coming out of Hollywood, the lowering of our morality standards, etc.

posted by: wilson on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

That comment that got him fired is the sort of thing that belongs on LiveJournal, visible only to himself or his friends list. And even then it's a risk.

posted by: fling93 on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

Really stupid post by Gee, particularly the "sense danger" part, as if there were some risk of sexual involvement. A little more elliptical way of describing her, a wry comment that alas such nubile students are untouchable, and, arguably, a different result.

Dan is indeed taking a small risk by his pin-up enthusiasm. But how far can you guard against such risks and live your life? Does Dan really want to work someplace where commenting on Salma Hayek's hotness is prohibited?

posted by: Anderson on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

My reading of the original posting was that the poor author was adjusting to life in academia - one of the problems he identified are the sexual temptations. He didn't say he was planning on jumping her bones - no, he said he saw temptations and would have to work on overcoming them or trouble would result.

Looks like a confession and a warning - not leering or public planning of a seduction. I'd call this political correctness run amuck.

posted by: Whitehall on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

There are no hot women at U of C.

posted by: UofCkid on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

Excuuuuuuuuse me, UofCkid, but I beg to differ. Unless of course you don't find brainy chicks sexy.

posted by: NameWithheld on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

Bear in mind that a few months ago, the Chronicle ran a whole article where a junior faculty member (or maybe even a TA) was talking about how he basically wanted to jump the bones of some students in his classes.

That said, I'm with Dan; academics really need a bright-line rule about that stuff.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

I have an eztended take on this here.

posted by: John Bruce on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

I knew someone who married her former tutor, and they were happy for more than 40 years, but they didn't start dating until long after he stopped having authority over her. That distinction would be lost today.

posted by: Abby on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

I'm with commentor Mark Paul above. I must add that I am also a college classmate of Michael Gee's and find the reaction of Boston University and most of the overly-PC commentors above stomach twisting. God, doesn't anyone have any sense of perspective anymore?

Everyone's like "off with their heads" and "strike one, you're out", with plenty of tut-tutting about "personal responsibility". What sniveling groupthink! You all sound like a bunch of goody-goddy middle schoolers.

Judging from Mike's blog comments, perhaps they were overly jocular and indiscreet, but his point seemed to be that he had some strangely disinterested students (don't journo students need to read newspapers anymore?) one of whom was distractingly beautiful.

Too bad the school didn't take him aside from this egregious breach and give him a second chance. Seemed like the students could have learned something from Mike's 30 some odd year tenure as a feature sportswriter on a major newspaper. Now they won't have a chance.

The only good thing about this is I will now have a good excuse to decline to give money to Boston University when they call to pester me. You can't just keep using (former president) John Silver as an excuse. Now I'll be able to tell them to get lost for what they did to my friend Michael.

posted by: jackl on 07.21.05 at 12:33 AM [permalink]

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