July 12, 2005

Oh, Dear.

A cautionary tale for all y'all wannabe academics slash bloggers out there via The Chronicle:


It's subscription only, so brace yourselves for the cutting and pasting. Seems that the delicate flowers of academic hiring committees are not mentally equipped to deal with the revelatory nature of blogs. Well, okay. It does make sense that if you're spending all your online time kvetching about your ovaries or picking fights with the blogatrice across the way that maybe you shouldn't consider your blog part of your academic output. Point taken. Also, if you're spending all your time fantasizing--in writing--about how you'll get your revenge on that ass of a department head or your own unique sexual predilections--well, could you blame a university for being a little bit cautious?

But once you get past the article's eight paragraphs of "humorous" observations such as:

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed that a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

You reach the crux of the matter:

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.

The "Oh dear! We might get blogged about! And people outside our influence might find out what we're really up to!" reaction. Imagine! New faculty might be autonomous! They might have--gasp--opinions! Or personal preferences! Or they might not be willing to shut up and go along like a good little peon! The horror! The nerve!

In other words, if you wanna be an academic, you'd better shut your mouth and get on the reservation, baby. No freedom of expression for you!

Unless you blog anonymously. And for the love of God, don't put your web address on your resume.

Via reader Kathy.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 12, 2005 09:48 AM


I wondered if you were going to touch on this.

I have a little hobby blog - none of my colleagues know about it (and I didn't have it when I was applying for jobs but did when I was up for tenure, and in fact, posted on there in big letters on the day I got tenure that I did), but it's kinda semi-anonymous.

I wouldn't air departmental dirty laundry (not that there really IS; we're a pretty congenial bunch). I think most bloggers would recognize that doing so, except in the most anonymous/pseudonymous situations, is potentially a danger - I would view it as kind of like the old fashioned "slam books" that were a staple of some of my girlhood slumber parties. Feelings wind up getting hurt, and airing that kind of opinion never really helps.

On the other side of things, I've served on a number of hiring committees, and frankly with the number of applicants/job I had to deal with, it was a challenge just to read the example published work that people submitted, much less track down a blog. (Even if they put it on their cv, I'd be unlikely to read it, unless I felt certain it was important to understanding the person's research or teaching interests).

I do think that Googling someone or tracking down their blog on the quiet is pretty devious, and probably isn't all that different from calling the person's best friend and asking them for poop on their personal life. I know I'd feel mighty skeevy about it if some administrative higher-up suggested I track down blogposts by people applying for a job in my department.

I guess my other concern with blogging is the fear that someone, somewhere in the Powers that Be would look at it and go "wow...she spends a lot of time on her hobby...we must not be loading her up with enough work" or that I'm too unserious. But for now, in the absence of a clear directive, I'm still going to post. I don't do it under my own name or anything, but there are here and there back in the archives pictures of me* and people could recognize who I was.

(*nothing I could possibly be embarrassed by; they're me holding up a finished quilt or me out at a field site)

Actually, what skeeves me out worst is the thought that after my interview, all the offhand comments or awkward jokes I made were talked about by the committee, and the department as a whole, in the vein that "Tribble" suggested. (Well. They still hired me.) I don't remember the committees I served on going through a session of eye-rolling after one applicant talked at length about how she loved her new car and was even invited to appear in an ad for it, or after another revealed a rather annoying vocal mannerism. (We DID talk about - because it was one reason for rejecting him - a guy who came across as a total egoist, was rude to students during his seminar, and who gave us the general opinion that he was 'too cool for the room')

I think this "Tribble" guy is kind of a Mrs. Kravitz type, wanting to gossip about anyone and everyone so that he feels superior because "oh, thank goodness, I don't hold THAT person's opinions" or "I'm not an ickky blogger like HIM"

Posted by: ricki at July 12, 2005 10:51 AM

Ricki -

It was kinda weird to think about these people with nothing better to do than notice if you held your mouth funny when you talked. Geez. Just do a criminal background check if you're that paranoid.

Posted by: BAW at July 12, 2005 11:37 AM

"Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum."

You know, on further thought - that could be used as an argument against hiring ANYONE...

so he shows up to the interview in a nice suit and tie? How are you to know that he won't decide to become a streaker once he's hired?

so she talks about "boundaries," how are we to know that she won't start bedding students as soon as she gets on campus?

so he's a model researcher with many grants; how are we to know that he won't fall in love with some wild-haired artist and totally neglect his research program once he gets here? (Better also not hire wild-haired artists, either).

so she seems sane; how are we to know that she wasn't just heavily medicated that day?

Gah. I think what bugs me most in the end is the utter lack of trust in his fellow humans that Tribble seems to betray...frankly, I'm surprised his department hired HIM. (and by God, if I were an applicant there, I'd consider it a favor if they didn't hire me...Tribble sounds like a busybody of the worst sort. )

Posted by: ricki at July 12, 2005 02:17 PM

I find it saves time to use my real name, and you don't have to remember who you told what. Everybody gets the same story.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at July 12, 2005 03:18 PM