Thursday, September 15, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

The Wrath of Tribble

Three months ago I and many others blogged about Ivan Tribble's Chronicle of Higher Education essay on blogging and academic hiring. Shorter Tribble: "Don't blog, because it's kind of strange, my colleagues and I don't quite get it, and your online self might come off as an unstable git."

Tribble responded to his critics yesterday in the Chronicle. He appears a touch miffed:

A lot can happen when you try to help some people land tenure-track jobs....

While not a scientific sampling by any means, what I saw suggested a trend worth warning others about. The ensuing outcry against my words of warning -- both on The Chronicle's discussion forums and on some blogs -- gave me pause. Clearly I had offended a number of bloggers and hurt some feelings. For that I offer my apology to any who will accept it.

But I still stand by my basic point....

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don't "get it." That's right, I don't. Many in the tenured generation don't, and they'll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

If that's bad news, I'm sorry. But would it really be better if no one bothered to mention it? Shooting the messenger may make some feel better, but heeding the warning might help them get jobs.

Read the whole thing. My biggest disappointment in the piece is this section:

I stated that several committee members had reservations about hiring a blogger, which many respondents dismissed as irrational. I can't speak for every committee member's reasons, or every blogger's good judgment.

This revives the point that the issue is not the medium itself, but how it is used.

That's funny, because what what truly annoyed me in Tribble's initial essay were the motivations he assigned his committee members -- and the concern then was pretty much the medium itself:

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 (emphasis added)

I'll just repeat what I said back in June, because it echoes Tribble's last few paragraphs:

To graduate students: I'd like to say that Ivan the Tribble is your classic piece of outlying data, but I can't. The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one's own name.

For a more positive outlook, check out Henry Farrell and Brian Weatherson.

posted by Dan on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM


If the faculty at our institutions of higher education aren't allowed to express themselves in what are supposed to be bastions of free and critical thinking, what does that signify to the attending students?

posted by: johnnymeathead on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

It isn't called the Ivory Tower for nothing.

There are clearly some academics who think that their department's "dirty laundry" is not among the five most boring subjects on the planet. A blogger choosing to write about that subject would be showing poor news judgment, not an inadequate grasp of decorum.

posted by: Zathras on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum (emphasis added)

That's a pretty good argument against giving anyone tenure, isn't it?

posted by: rosignol on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

The question that seems to be ignored is whether blogging is a substitute for other productive output or a complement in the production function. In some instances, it is difficult to see how someone who blogs so much can at the same time be conducting publishable research; in others, it is clear that blogging is an outlet which actually induces higher quality research and publications.

Add to this question, the fact that many blogs do a superb job of promoting the university and department and many blogs serve to enhance a professor's teaching, and the case for blogging takes on more strength.

For the most part, though, I suspect there are many schools where the very fact that you spend time on a blog will count against you; the presumption will be that blogging takes away from more traditional forms of research and publication.

posted by: The Eclectic Econoclast on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

And old question - I'm sure far from a original one, is whether academic tenure increases freedom of speech or merely shifts it. Shifts it from untenured faculty to tenured faculty.

Professor Tribble's honesty should be appreciated even though it presents a discouraging truth - that in a seller's market anything can and will be used to disqualify you. Best to limit your communications to things which can help your career.

If you must do politics by all means let it be left-wing politics though you can get away with being a moderate democrat or a silent republican. Otherwise limit it to papers and books.

Things can be much better as Dan's experience with the U of Chicago shows. But one thing is very clear - enlightened treatment is a privilege which they may choose to extend and which can be withdrawn at any time. It is not a right and seems to be a rare thing in any case.

So keep your lip buttoned or only utter approved sentiments until the committee frees thy tongue - or not.

posted by: Don Stadler on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

I honestly think that the second piece is an even greater embarassment than the first. To pretend that criticisms about him were about "free speech" is just patently dishonest. The problem was the extent to which a man sees a job committee as a medium to give free play to his petty aesthetic prejudices in what is supposed to be a relatively rational process, blogs being just one of the things that he's cranky about. What a feeble strawman-burning Tribble's apologia is. (Which is not to deny the relevance of your warnings.)

posted by: Scott Lemieux on 09.15.05 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?