February 27th, 2008
From The Chronicle, 7/28/2006
By Ernest Wiggins
Professor Althouse’s thoughtful piece on the potential hazards of blogging from a few years back caught my eye. For the unfamiliar, the professor she refers to in the final graf, Juan Cole, was reputedly denied a tenured position at Yale because of his blogging.
By ANN ALTHOUSE
What are we to make of the blogging professor? I’m not talking about professors who look upon blogging as a new way to project their scholarship into the world and who assiduously protect their reputations by writing every post in an academic style. I’m talking about those of us who are inspired by this writing format, who find ourselves drawn into new ways of thinking and communicating with the world.
If you veer away from purely scholarly writing and engage in polemic or satire or elliptical snark about controversial subject matter, you may very well win a widespread audience and feel highly gratified by this response, but then you will also be motivating some people to oppose you, perhaps quite viciously, and you will be generating the material they can use to try to bring you down. The very fact that you’re a professor is leverage: This person purports to be a scholar, but look how he writes!
Successful blog writing is sharp and clear. Controversial opinions will look quite stark. You lay it on the line, and you mean to startle readers and make your opponents mad. Academic writing is temperate and swathed in verbiage. It creates a comfortable environment for academics and wards off casual readers. In the blogosphere, you’re newly exposed, and it’s a rough arena, where you have far less control over what happens to you. That’s part of what makes blogging empowering and, often, great fun. But it’s a big risk, and of course, it risks your career.
I do not know exactly what happened to Juan Cole. He dared to put his ideas out in the open where lots of people could see exactly what he has to say, and some of them felt a strong antagonism to it. But we bloggers are responsible for what we write, and whatever we write reflects on our intellectual soundness. Those who are making a judgment about whether to offer a blogger a new career opportunity ought to have the sense to recognize satire and hyperbole and to understand that blog writing is done quickly, instinctively, and without an editor. But surely they are entitled to look at it as evidence of the quality of the blogger’s mind.
Ann Althouse is a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Her blog can be found at http://althouse.blogspot.com