Blog or perish

Prof. Susan Crawford wonders whether blogging is a professorial endeavor — that is, whether it should count for the final exam of the teaching set: tenure. In an interview with fellow profs, she said:

I took a “law professors are people too” approach to the questions we were asked. I see scholarship and blogging as separate endeavors, and I enjoy getting the chance to speak here without footnotes. I feel as if I’m part of an enormous collaborative and creative endeavor online. I don’t expect for a moment that my colleagues will consider my posts when I’m up for tenure.

Ah, but isn’t the link the new and improved footnote? Doesn’t Technorati provide a new and open form of peer review? And isn’t it wonderful to get a professorial perspective in a timely manner? I was grateful the other day when I could go to Prof. Jack Balkin’s blog soon after the Supreme Court’s whistlestopping decision and get his learned analysis.

No — surprise — I am not suggesting that blogging should replace traditional scholarship and publishing; there is, of course, a need for research, consideration, review, and publishing (digitally, too!). But I’ll argue here — as I do in the discussion about books and in the discussion about journalists blogging — that we are better off with both. Now that the internet gives us this new opportunity to talk with and listen to the public from our perches, why wouldn’t we grab it?

If professors blog as professors, they bring their scholarship and perspective to a larger world. That is good for their scholarship — conversation yields learning as people question and challenge and add to what you say — and, presumably, it is good for the world if they contribute knowledge and perspective to the public discussion. Professors need to come down from the tower and peek through the ivy; they need to return to the public square, just as my blogging friend and teacher Prof. Jay Rosen says that journalists should end the separation they put between themselves and the public they serve. In fact, I will argue that when the restructuring that is coming to every other profession thanks to the internet inevitably comes to the academe — when people will find the learning they want in more places and the role of universities and their faculties goes through upheaval just like the role of journalists and newspapers — then the academics and the institutions that are open to the world will be in a better position to survive and prosper and matter. So MIT is right to put its curriculum online. And professors are right to blog.

I’ve been thinking about this not only in the context of journalists who blog but academics who blog because I’ll soon be — or will attempt to be — both, when I start teaching at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism in September. My own blog will continue to be me — that is, a mix of blatherings about media and journalism but also rants about Dell and personal notes about 9/11 and Howard Stern moments like the post directly below. Think of it as my end of a college cocktail party: some collegial debate about professional topics and some personal chatter, the more of the latter the later the night gets. I would not require students to read my blog (though I suppose that’s not much different from making them buy your own book for a class). But I will be aware that they may see what I say here and if they do, I hope they challenge me on it. I’ll also be aware that fellow faculty may read it and may have cause to argue with it. I’d relish that, and I’d bet the students would … if that were a discussion via links among mutual blogs.

So, yes, I think that journalists should blog because it is good for them to open the process of journalism, to meet and respond to the public they serve, and to invite that public into that process to improve it.

And I think that professors should blog — should take advantage of this new form of publication, that is, if it’s appropriate to their specialties and styles — because they should be generous with their knowledge and they would benefit from the conversation and because their institutions would benefit from building a new relationship with the public. So, yes, I think that blogging can and should count toward tenure, if universities are smart.

And I say that not just because I despair at finding the time to write one of those old-fashioned things called books.

: LATER: See, too, Ryan Sholin.

  • In the scientific community there have been attempts to change from the peer reviewed scholarly article model. The defects are that the process is slow, the reviewers are anonymous and thus may be biased, and the publishers have a choke hold on the dissemination of knowledge. Libraries wouldn’t mind seeing a new model either as some journals charge $10K+ per year for a subscription.

    One of the models being tried (I don’t know with what level of acceptance) is for anyone to be able to post an article. The peer reviewing would then take place online by the readers. Those articles which scored well would be highly regarded and end up being cited, those which were not would sink into obscurity. Being a self-regulated, online, community would also keep publishing and distribution costs down.

    Much of what authors publish is aimed at getting tenure or promotion, so the success of this activity depends more on whether this type of publication will be allowed for such career decisions.

  • Jeff, if you despair at finding the time to write a book, why bother? Is it part of your strategy to “get somewhere” or some hectoring from your superego (despite the weaknesses you’ve chronicled of the medium)? I’d bet that with or without a book, you’ve already arrived where you’re supposed to be.

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  • Steve,
    It’s the academic pressure: publish or perish and all that.
    We publish daily, eh?

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  • I think it’s great that professors like Susan Crawford blog. Any kid thinking of taking her courses can evaluate her intellect by reading her blog and make an informed prediction about the content and value of the course. I should also think the tenure committee would find it interesting to read the sort of thing she posts on her blog.

    Many professors today seem to be more like cheerleaders for political viewpoints than scholars. It would be good if we could herd all the cheerleaders into friendly schools for them, such as Bob Jones University or The New School. Then the scholars could collect somewhere else and all the moms and dads could send their little darlings to a place that aligned with their values. At Bob Jones, there’s no upsetting discussion of evolution, and at The New School there’s no disquieting suggestion that the Free Market is anything but a rapist. Scholarship is hard, and the old-style professor who played it straight and kept his politics to himself is a dinosaur.

    But given that, why even bother with higher education at all? If a graduate education is simply an exercise in partisan blog-picking, why not just go to Starbucks and use the free WiFi to read Daily Kos? All you really need to know is there, and no scary contrarian views.

    Face it, dude, higher education is dead: Blogs Rule!

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  • I’m a literary professor who blogs but I wouldn’t dream of letting the students see it. I’ve got a whole programme lined up for them that doesn’t include any more of the internet than they already see. However, I love the blog for the freedom it gives me to explore what I think about, and how I respond to, the texts I regularly teach in ways that are personal and (probably only to me) entertaining. That can only be good for my teaching, ultimately.

  • Owen Stanley Surman M.D.

    Ben Vershbow ( Institute for the Future of the Book ) quoted Jorge Luis Borges, “A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.”
    Yes. Here is another view: At a June reading for The Library of the Boston Athenaeum, psychiatrist, Owen Stanley Surman M.D. ( “After Eden: A Love Story”) said, “The book is a transparent sphere wherein one may view the circle of life through unlimited turns and perspectives.”

  • Well I don’t know about you but I think the Tournament has been quite boring. Too many top seeds winning.
    I’ll put my money on UCLA for now.

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