Sunday, October 16, 2005

Blogging and Academics

The University of Chicago denying tenure to an assistant professor is rarely a breaking news story. Yet political scientist Daniel Drezner's case received considerable press including a Chicago Tribune story. Why? Because he had a popular blog.

I doubt the content of the weblog or its existence or popularity played negatively towards his tenure case. Perhaps some feel his time would have been better spent on "real academics" but most likely they considered his more traditional academic writings and, frankly, it's very difficult to get tenure at the U of C, particularly in the social sciences.

Will Drezner's weblog help him in his future job hunt? Ivan Tribble argued that weblogs can hurt a candidate for an academic position.

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.
I disagree with Tribble. Most non-anonymous academic webloggers know better than to discuss departmental politics in their blogs and departmental hiring committees should or will realize they have nothing to fear. A popular weblog raises one visibility in and out of their field—far more people read this weblog then download my research papers, for example. A weblog like Daniel Drezner's (much more read than this one) gives him an edge over his peers, a popularity that will open some doors that others will have to fight harder for.


  1. Is it true, as the Chicago Tribune states, that only takes a handful of votes to be denied tenure in Chicago?

    I thought 2/3 supermajorities were more the norm for tenure.

  2. There was a story a while back of a kid getting fired from Starbucks because he made some quasi-disparaging comments about the company on his blog. Personally, I don't think it's anyone's business if you write a blog... it certainly shouldn't impact your tenure application. However, I can see the position that they may be afraid of "airing dirty laundry." Although, I think some discretion by the author is required here... if you know the department looks down on these things, then write anonymously or with a psuedonym. In many cases the use of a pseudonym can be beneficial depending on your subject matter. On a feminist blog which I frequent, there was an incident where it got hit by some ultra-chauvinistic guys. They tried to find info about many of the people who comment there and tried to sabotage their professional careers. There was a teacher and a professor in particular that they targeted. Spread rumors about pedophilia, etc. It all turned out okay, but basically my point is that you have to use your discretion. When in doubt, blog anonymously.

  3. It's only vaguely related to your post, but what is your take on Tierney's recent op-eds in the times on few-republicans-in-academia?

  4. While Dr. Fortnow's results on applications of arithmetization to the study of resource bounded computation are admirable, his highly publicized opinions on the euthanasia of virtual intelligences and typesetting indicates an incendiary and self-promoting type ... such behavior should not be rewarded with tenure... keep him away from plastic bags and hammers....

  5. An interesting research question is
    whether people who blog are, on
    average, less productive than their
    non-blogging counterparts.

    Just count young assistant professors
    and grad students who blog. Tenured
    professors don't count, because their
    grad students contribute to their
    publication record.

    My hypothesis is that people who
    blog are less productive, on
    average. While the internet is a
    boon, it is also a bane to
    productivity. And the new-found fad
    of blogging almost certainly
    contributes to that.

    Doesn't mean you should stop
    blogging, though -- I enjoy your

  6. I would offer a counter-hypothesis: As blogging is a leisure-time activity, there should be no correlation between it and productivity, since assuming that all other things are equal a person would devote the same amount of time for leisure activities no matter what they are.

  7. Grad students don't contribute to the publication records of young assistant professors? Many grad students I know publish papers together with not-yet-tenured assistant professors. Do these not count toward the assistant professor's publication record?

  8. Bloggina and Tenure is actually an old
    issue in a new form. CS Lewis and
    JRR Tolkien had collegues that thought
    there writing a mere fantasy stories
    was not appropriate academic behaviour.
    Carl Sagan had a hard time getting
    into the National Academy of sciences
    (which he did) BECAUSE he wrote for
    a popular audience.
    How much should an academics work that
    IS accessible to a layman be counted
    TOWARDS his case? Should it be counted
    AGAINST his case since he SHOULD be
    writing papers on (say) p-adic cohomlogy?
    My point is that this is just the same
    question now with Blogs.
    (My opinion: TOWARDS his case)
    bill gasarch

  9. Actually, Carl Sagan *didn't* get into the NAS, and it seems clear that resentment of his fame was a factor. (However, a year later the NAS gave him an award for science popularization.) You can read the story, which does not reflect well on NAS, in the Sagan biographies by Keay Davidson and William Poundstone.