Turkey Post #2: More On The Value of "Academic" Blogs

There was a good discussion on Tech-Rhet and some thoughtful commentary on an article that appeared in/on Slate (in a week of articles about academia), Robert S. Boynton’s “Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs– When academics post online, do they risk their jobs?” In the nutshell, Boynton, focusing on the story of Daniel W. Drezner, who keeps a well-regarded blog (which I don’t read on a regular basis because it’s about stuff like political science and economics and stuff), was denied tenure at the University of Chicago (and Drezner writes about this experience quite a bit in his blog), and eventually offered a tenured position at Tufts.

I am sure there are many places in the blogosphere where folks are talking about this, but there’s a useful post at the if: book blog, a post that raises the issue of making blogs “count” in academic sense with peer review, so-called blog “carnivals,” and the like. This entry conveniently links to a bunch of other useful sites, and ends more or less like this:

It will be to the benefit of society if blogging can be claimed, sharpened and leveraged as a recognized scholarly practice, a way to merge the academy with the traffic of the real world. The university shouldn’t keep its talents locked up within a faltering publishing system that narrows rather than expands their scope. That’s not to say professors shouldn’t keep writing papers, books and monographs, shouldn’t continue to deepen the well of knowledge. On the contrary, blogging should be viewed only as a complement to research and teaching, not a replacement. But as such, it has the potential to breathe new life into the scholarly enterprise as a whole, just as Boynton describes.

I have a number of thoughts about all this:

  • For most of us academic bloggers, happy and otherwise, I think it is either misguided or downright delusional to compare our situation with that of Drezner’s. At least it is for me. I mean, I have around 25-50 readers day– far fewer, I suspect, than Prof. Drezner– and while there are people in my department who know I keep a blog, most seem unaware and I don’t think any of my colleagues care one way or the other about my blog. Blogging always has to be a personal decision because most blogger’s top readers are going to be me, myself, and I.
  • Drezner himself points out that he doesn’t think it was his blog that cost him tenure at U of Chicago, and he doesn’t think it was that big of a factor in terms of snagging his new job at Tufts.
  • The vast majority of academics by definition don’t dwell in the rarified air of Drezner and his colleagues. I wrote an essay about valuing self-published web sites as part of the tenure and review process a couple years ago, an essay that was published in the online version of College Composition and Communication and that was part of a special multi-journal issue of various electronic journals. My essay was “disappeared” by that site, so I set it up on my own web server space here. I make a lot of points in this essay, but to me, one of the more significant points is this one:

    I recall the horror stories of “publish or perish,” of assistant professors who had books published by good presses and were still denied tenure. The picture that was painted by my advisors made me think that tenure at most schools was a fifty-fifty proposition, at best.

    The fact of the matter is this happens almost exclusively at Carnegie Classification Research I or Research II institutions, or it happens in situations that probably have more to do with complicated politics and personalities than it does with publications. The vast majority of community colleges, colleges, and universities in this country are not research institutions and do not have the same notions about what does or doesn’t count as scholarship for the purposes of tenure, review, and promotion. Yet this reality is routinely ignored in documents that offer advice and guidelines for tenure, promotion, and review.

    Or let me put it this way: the rules for tenure vary. A lot. Since I finished my undergraduate degree, I have been a graduate student or a faculty member at four different institutions, all of which might be best described as “regional state universities” (though I think Bowling Green State is a “Research I;” they certainly have a lot of Ph.D. programs). At each of these institutions, I know that faculty have been awarded tenure and/or promotion with less than a book.

  • So should blogs “count” toward tenure? Maybe, maybe not. But as I argued in my piece about self-published web sites, I think this is a situation in which tenure/promotion seekers have to make arguments that appeal to the individuals within their own institutions. At some places, they might count; at other places, they might not.
  • Personally, I don’t really care if my blogging “counts” in that sense or not. For one thing, one of the things I like about blogging is that for the likes of small-time bloggers like me, the motivation to keep a blog is pretty much internal. In other words, I do this because I want to, not because I have to. And let’s face it: the road to hell is paved with academic presentations, articles, and books that were written solely as a chip to add to the tenure basket.

    Besides, I get a lot of indirect benefits from blogging. I’ve been able to give presentations and write articles based on my blogging and teaching with blogs, and I’ve even made a little money from the whole blog thing. So that’s worth something.

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