Posted by Chris at 7/26/2006 7:40 PM
A lot has been written over the past year regarding the impact of blogging on the careers of academic, but the issue came to a head again recently when it appeared that Middle-East specialist Juan Cole was not hired for a position at Yale due to a campaign by political opponents who object to his opinions and analysis regarding American policy in the Middle-East. Cole has a wildly popular blog, sometimes reaching 250,000 hits per month (I'm ecstatic to get ten hits a day, but then I'm just not in the same category in terms of quality of posts, or relevance to the lives of most people). However, because his opinions do not always fit the right-wing, or even mainstream, opinion on support for Israel, he is a frequent target for attacks by a variety of sources.
Juan Cole is not the first prominent academic blogger to run into difficulties - when Daniel Drezner was denied tenure at the University of Chicago, many bloggers believed that his blogging was the reason. Drezner has found another position at Tufts University, but the episode left many academic bloggers nervous. Of course, non-tenured academic bloggers have actually been fired over their blogging - The Phantom Professor is just the most visible example.
Of course, bloggers outside academia face potentially greater consequences than not receiving a promotion or getting a different tenured position. Bloggers in the IT world have been fired for blogging, as did a worker at the CIA, who expressed her opinion over the Geneva Conventions and torture. Blogging, it seems, is not always an economically safe choice.
The recent furor over Juan Cole's non-hiring by Yale is having an additional chilling effect that some of the earlier cases did not, possibly because it is more widely publicized, or because he so public a figure. It seems likely that Bleu's decision to discontinue her blog, Smoking in the Dark, is related to this. Bleu's blog came to my attention when a link to it was posted on HNN (I think) due to her work with Templar art in France. Her blog was a combination of serious academic work, attempts to understand the nature of war, and worries over friends serving in the Middle East. I can only assume that more academics will abandon their blogs, or go underground.
I admit to having concerns along these lines. I sometimes wonder if blogging will keep me from getting into a PhD program, getting, or keeping academic jobs. I wonder if blogging could negatively impact my day job, or my part time teaching. These concerns are part of what lead me to drop my previous blog and turn to this endeavor. What I do here is probably tempting fate enough - someone could certainly read my ramblings and decide I'm not serious enough, dedicated enough, or simply not smart enough to attend (or teach at) their institution.
That people lose their jobs, promotions, or don't get new positions is a serious issue for all bloggers, academic or otherwise, to consider as they write and develop their online personalities. As more widely read people have pointed out, the First Amendment only protects us from the Federal government, not our employers. By putting out opinions out here for the world to read, we are accepting the responsibility for expressing those opinions, as well as the risk of negative consequences. It may seem unfair that people would hold what are frequently hastily formed opinions against bloggers, but it is simply human nature for that to happen in these days where employers, families, and acquaintances Google anyone and everyone. Blogging may seem to them to show undesirable traits, or make them worry that you are overly focused on bloggin, and not on work, school, or family.
So what does this mean for academic bloggers. For that, I recommend the Chronicle of Higher Education's small forum for discussing this, particularly the essays by Brad Delong and Juan Cole. I particularly found Cole's comment about being a public intellectual his career an interesting one.