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Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Drezner Makes the Papers
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:25 am

It is certainly a phenomenon of the internet age that a) so many non-scholars of international relations know who Daniel Drezner is, and b) that so many of us are talking about his denial of tenure-which is usually a very quiet and intimate conversation with friend and family.

And, to kick it up a notch, the New York Sun has gotten into the act: Blogging Prof Fails To Heed His Own Advice.

The following struck me (as did several items in the piece):

News of his tenure denial has struck a nerve in the growing community of academic bloggers, who are aware that blogging can be a double-edged sword: a powerful way to communicate scholarly ideas to the public and increase name recognition, and a risky venture in a field where every idea - even those roughly thrown together at 3 a.m. - matters.

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.

An intriguing non-denial (or, at least, a sideways one). However, it is dangerous to read too much into one sentence. I can guarantee one thing, however, and that is that “the blog” is now figuring prominently in the mental justification of many of the committee members, who now find themselves being interviewed for newspaper articles (when was the last time a newspaper, let alone one from out of state, called a university to find out why an assistant professor wasn’t promoted?) and being discussed by a bunch of academics who should be doing research instead of talking about the U of C and Drezner on their blogs (not to mention *gasp* that a lot of lay people are rendering judgment in public as well). No doubt they now think that “the blog” has caused them a bunch of trouble, so good riddance.

This situation, it strikes me, adds a new twist to the argument about non-tenured bloggers, and that is: don’t get too well-known, because that may cause the department to wish to dump you to avoid whatever kinds of publicity/negative attention they may get as a byproduct of your blog. Certainly some may now be more pre-disposed to frown on blogging.

And, the NYS piece quotes the Tribble from his Chronicle from earlier in the year:

“The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why?” the scholar wrote. “What is the purpose of broadcasting one’s unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? 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.”

What really gets me about that thesis is that it presumes that the best thing that a scholar can do is keep his/her ideas close to vest and really share them only within a very small cadre of people within their own discipline (and maybe with their students). The idea that ideas might be widely shared should be an idea that the academy encourages. Yes, public sharing of ideas means that they will very frequently be expressed in underdeveloped forms, but so what? What better may to work through the development of the idea? It is what we do all the time at professional conferences. Indeed, many academic-oriented blogs I frequent are far more useful than a lot of conference panels I have attended over the years.

And yes, some academic blogs are crude, offensive and/or unimpressive, but then so too are a lot of academics (to summon my favorite quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “People are a problem”).

I remain baffled by the notion that engaging in public discourse is to be frowned upon. It strikes me ultimately as anti-intellectual. Certainly it seems to play into the theory that place where ideas can harm you the most is the place where ideas should be the most protected, which is sad and frustrating.

And the idea that colleagues and committee members think that they can effectively use blogging as a measure of lack of overall academic productivity (as if every minute blogging = a minute that would be used in true academic pursuits) is not only ludicrous, but it has a certain Orwellian creepiness to it as well.

Filed under: Blogging, Academia | |Send TrackBack

Signifying Nothing linked with More Drezner blowback
PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Blogging Political Scientists Census-Beta Version linked with [...] Reynolds, Stephen Bainbridge, Ann Althouse, and Eugene Volokh to name a few). While I am of the opinion that blogging is a fantastic medium for academics, there isn’t the same sort of blogging [...]


  1. The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why?” the scholar wrote.

    Funny coming from an anonymous columnist. The more appropriate question seems to be “Why not?” Clearly because those in the academic fraternity have not shifted paradigms enough that it won’t cost you a job. Sad, really.

    Comment by Bryan S. — Tuesday, October 11, 2005 @ 9:41 am

  2. On the other hand, the U of C has attracted a lot of negative publicity they otherwise wouldn’t have had. If Drezner weren’t a blogger, the blowback from this denial would have been a few whispered conversations at conferences, not nationwide bad PR for a department that (frankly) proves that current reputation is a lagging indicator of current program quality.

    Comment by Chris Lawrence — Tuesday, October 11, 2005 @ 1:06 pm

  3. More Drezner blowback

    As Steven Taylor notes, the Drezner story has made it to the New York Sun; for your own amusement, try to parse this non-denial denial from the department chair: While refusing to go into specifics about Mr. Drezner’s tenure case, the chairman of the…

    Trackback by Signifying Nothing — Tuesday, October 11, 2005 @ 1:28 pm

  4. […] Reynolds, Stephen Bainbridge, Ann Althouse, and Eugene Volokh to name a few). While I am of the opinion that blogging is a fantastic medium for academics, there isn’t the same sort of blogging […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Blogging Political Scientists Census-Beta Version — Wednesday, December 28, 2005 @ 2:49 pm

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