T Nation

Blogging and Tenure


#1

We've discussed the capriciousness of the academic hiring system before, particularly with regard to political discrimination. With that in mind, it seems interesting to consider the effects of blogging on academics -- particularly with regard to tenure decisions.

I bring this up now because one of my favorite academic bloggers, Dan Drezner, who was an assistant professor of political science at U. of Chicago, was just denied tenure -- and the speculation is that it may have been due to his blogging.

See here: http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002353.html#more

and here: http://www.nysun.com/article/21296

From all I can see he was well qualified in the manner I expect professors up for tenure at big schools to be qualified, which is to say he published (in what I think are good journals) and he had a rep as a good teacher.

Does anyone with more experience in academia think it likely he was denied tenure due to blogging, or even more specifically, due to the fact he expressed libertarian political opinions in his webblog?

I guess the lesson for anyone in academics - or really in any profession in which people making decisions based on hazy and undefined criteria have power over whether you can advance - is that if you are going to blog, do it anonymously...


#2

Boston,

Very interesting. Who knows why? Tenure is not exactly a high hurdle these days.

The real shame of it is that professors are required to do so much publishing, both pre- and post-tenure. The quality of the material is horrible - long-winded, impenetrable tracts on topics that no one will ever bother reading.

While I don't think blogging could or should replace true academic scholarship, I can say - with firsthand experience - that the relevance and insightfulness of modern blogging has outpaced the smug, wandering prose of traditional academic scholarship by a large clip.

Making a pure guess, I suspect his politics might have hurt him. Drezner is a well-known fellow, and universities - especially large ones -love celebrity professors, which Drezner could be described as. I can't see his blogging - which only drives up his profile - hurting him.

But then again, the minds at work in higher education - which operate not unlike a country clus - work in myesterious ways.


#3

Yes.

Although I don't think it is fair for anyone's career to be affected by one's public opinions, there are specific areas -- i.e., anything that is supposed to be "science" -- where professors need to have completely unbiased public personas. I know, it's Science Fiction, but when somebody's opinions became as public has his did, it's very, very hard for his work to be scientifically credible to his students. Hence I can understand the decision and, most of all, I hope it serves as a lesson for other people that want to pass off as scientists.

Basically, if you ever attended one of my classes, or read some of my published work, you wouldn't believe it was the same person that anonymously writes here. Economy IS a science and anything with my real name on it HAS to obey to the rules of science, and NEVER give any hint of bias.

Of course, in liberal arts, and in anything that in general is not seen as a science, all bets are off. The more biased your public persona is, the more interesting it becomes.


#4

Unfortunately, many times you are right -- the pressure to publish sometimes makes the quality suffer. However, don't blame it on the academics: there's a limited pool of stuff we can do in such short time and with the little resources that most academics have. Also, maybe it's because they are so bored themselves with the stuff they are told to research on, they cannot make it interesting.

The truth is that there are many talented people that could be doing interesting stuff and publishing it but simply can't convince anyone to sponsor it. Today, getting grants and generally research money is a highly political -- and, hence, most of the time, unfair -- game, based mostly on who you know rather than what you know. As most everything in the World anyway.

However, it's been getting worse lately: whenever a Republican administration is in power, the only things you can really get sponsored are either related to biochem or defense. Which can get incredibly dumb: for example, the DoD is funding a project -- with several millions of USD of taxpayer money -- to research teleportation. Yes, you read it well: teleportation, something we know is highly unfeasible if not completely impossible, for many reasons. Maybe it's something we can revisit in a few generations, when we can deal with the amounts of energy and information involved, and/or when we understand quantum entanglement better, but until then, it's a complete waste of time and money, as most of the stuff the DoD sponsors.

Hence, don't be surprised that most of us are liberals: Republican administrations waste so much precious money and make our life so much more frustrating that we can't help but hate them.

Fortunately, we still get to do cool stuff -- like the race we (Stanford) just won with our remote-control Touareg, or the now-infamous Schadenfreude study a colleague of mine here at Stanford did, but, well, not everything we do here is cool, even though we're unusually well funded, mostly because we are excellent at atracting foreign investment; most institutions don't have as much money so they don't get to do as much cool stuff as we do. So there's a lot of filler.

Basically, academia is no different from any other area, like food or IT: lots of crap, with only a few gems around.


#5

I agree with you - so much pressure to write dulls the supply of good material. Topics become narrower and narrower, academics have to sit around a dream up angles to approach new topics - and this leads to enormously useless abstractions that have no intellectual or pratical utility.

Well, in all seriousness, different parties have different priorities, that should not surprise anyone - but the idea that the federal government should lavish academica with research grants doesn't comport with the functions of the federal government. So while I understand how the game is played and the differences based on who is living in the White House, I am not particularly impressed with the idea that an academic has a right to complain that the federal teet has gone dry when it was more of a privilege, not a right.

Rest assured, my complaints about how the federal government spends its money are distibuted on both sides of the aisle.

Yes, but this is no more than a political ax waiting to be ground. I suspect what you label as 'waste' is largely funding designated to projects that don't line up with your political preferences - and I don't think that is very weighty criticism. The better criticism is to define first what the government should fund - no, not everything - and then decide whether the money devoted to those areas is being wasted.

I think the first question is more important than the second one.

I mean this seriously - what is the point of that project?

Heh, well, with one big qualifier, getting back to the point of the thread - tenure.


#6

Actually, I was being facetious when I said "remote-control". It was what many media outlets said, but that was wrong, because that might infer that a human was controlling it. It wasn't. The thing about this project is basically that these cars did NOT rely on humans to control them. They found their way on their own. There are major applications for this, since it's not always possible to have humans remotely controlling the vehicle -- on Earth, because of interference, and on other planets, because light is slow when we're talking astronomical distances.