Once again, The Chronicle explores the perils of scholarly blogging…

The Chronicle of Higher Education has opened up access (there would have been a predictable backlash had they decided otherwise) to a forum discussion concerning the case of Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. In the forum intro the discussion problem at hand is framed thus:

After two departments recommended him for a tenured position at Yale
University, a senior committee decided last month not to offer him the
job after all. Although Yale has declined to explain its decision,
numerous accounts in the news media have speculated that Cole’s
appointment was shot down because of views he expressed on his blog.

Of course, absent the high profile Cole has garnered via his weblog, it’s possible he would never have been recommended for the position at all. (And let’s leave aside that at the time Cole stressed he was content at Michigan and not all that perturbed at being passed over.) The Chronicle canvasses seven prominent academic bloggers (too bad they didn’t bring Tribble back), with modestly interesting results. But Cole’s response to the discussion demonstrates in part why he’s been so successful in the medium:

The question is whether Web-log commentary helps or damages an
academic’s career. It is a shameful question. Intellectuals should not
be worrying about “careers,” the tenured among us least of all. Despite
the First Amendment, which only really protects one from the
government, most Americans who speak out can face sanctions from other
institutions in society. Journalists are fired all the time for taking
the wrong political stance. That is why most bloggers employed in the
private sector are anonymous or started out trying to be so.

cannot easily be handed a pink slip, but they can be punished in other
ways. The issues facing academics who dissent in public and in clear
prose are the same today as they have always been. Maintaining a Web
log now is no different in principle from writing a newsletter or
publishing sharp opinion in popular magazines in the 1950s.

…I am a Middle East expert. I lived in the area for nearly 10 years,
speak several of its languages, and have given my life to understanding
its history and culture. Since September 11, 2001, my country has been
profoundly involved with the region, both negatively and positively.
Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like
to monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own
interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in
the general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and
marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they
might have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this,
trying to help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I
have been silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose
in journals locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for
the sake of a “career”? The role of the public intellectual is my
career. And it is a hell of a career. I recommend it.

A number of provocative and interesting bits concerning scholarly weblogging have been piling up in my cognitive outbox lately. I should try and push a couple more into posts before I begin holidays at the end of the week.

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About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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