There was an article in Inside Higher Ed about the (previously anonymous) Phantom Professor being fired (or, really, not being rehired) at SMU because of some of the stuff she said in her blog. Lots of people have weighed in, including the equally anonymous Bitch PhD.
If the blog was really the reason for the Phantom Prof. to get fired, then I suspect that SMU over-reacted a bit (of course, given what little I’ve read about SMU in the Inside Higher Ed piece and from the Phantom Prof’s blog, it doesn’t seem all that surprising that they reacted this way, either). I certainly want to protect free speech and such, and I do worry about the chilling effect that things like this might have on non-empowered academic types like adjuncts.
I’m not saying that she should have been fired for her blog writing, and I’m not convinced that it was just her blog writing that got her not rehired. But it doesn’t really surprise me that SMU decided she was not for them.
I’ve written in my blog many times before about how I just don’t get the whole anonymous blogging thing; if you’re curious, see here, here, and here. I perfectly understand the concept of wanting to complain about things, about venting, about even “whistle-blowing.” I just don’t think that the blogosphere, which reaches potentially anyone with an internet connection, is a particularly good place to publish these sorts of writings. Among other things, as is (apparently) the case here with the Phantom Prof, it is entirely possible that your secret identity isn’t so secret after all, and then the reason for creating a secret identity in the first place collapses around you like a house of cards.
The other thing is this: just having briefly read through the Phantom Prof’s blog, there are a couple of things that strike me as having crossed the line. True, her stories about students are “concealed” sort of, but if you look at some of these entries, they don’t strike me as very secretive at all.
Consider this entry about a student she calls Jack. Then there’s this current entry called “Hot Pockets” which is about an attractive male professor in the department. Among other things, the PP writes “Hot Pockets has white teeth and expressive eyes. The girls are wild about him and every semester I’ve heard of this Ashley or that Jennifer having a big crush on the guy. Poor things. They think they have a chance. Bless his heart, Hot Pockets ain’t a playa. He’s a nice guy. He’s married to a gorgeous woman. He dotes on his kids, coaching their teams and spending his weekends with them instead of lurking around the campus like other profs.”
In a repost of an earlier entry titled “Only the lonely,” PP writes about the many profs at her school who come in on the weekend (which, btw, is a sure sign that she’s not talking about EMU, at least not my department). She writes “One prof just sits in his office and reads the Sunday New York Times. Another comes in on weekends and eats cheeseburgers in his office while he watches DVDs of silent films on his computer.”
Now, those are all pretty darn specific. I mean, unless she’s just making this up (which also gets to one of the problems of the genre of anonymous blogs that tell stories like this– they aren’t fiction; or are they?), don’t you think there’s a pretty good chance that Jack, Prof. Hot Pockets, and Dr. Silent Film are all going to recognize themselves or be recognized by other readers?
Personally, I think complaining about students or colleagues in something like an academic blog crosses a line. As I’ve written about before (in relation to others who have been fired for blogging), I just think it’s unprofessional. I save my complaints for family, trusted friends, and personal writings that I don’t expect to be seen by anyone but me. But it seems to me that if you are going to be writing in a very public place to a potentially vast and uncontrollable audience about students and colleagues, you’ve either got to do a much better job of fictionalizing things (“Dr. Silent Film isn’t real; he’s just a character!”), or you have to be a lot more vague with the identifying details.