Sunday, April 08, 2007

Are we contributing to the delinquency of untenured academic bloggers?

I hope it's widely understood that blogging is an impediment to promotion in every field that values propriety, discipline, and convention, which is basically every field except, perhaps, journalism. The pursuit of tenure is an oft cited example. Tenure is an oddly persistent medieval institution with some similarity to the job stability of senior executives (those who have contracts), 1970s union jobs, and owner-operators (equity holders). The process of acquiring tenure varies depending one's gender and ethnicity, but in general it requires a great deal of work, the successful development of an institutional revenue stream, and adherence to a largely unwritten code of social and political conduct. Activities that do not lead to a revenue stream, such as teaching too well, writing for the public, and, above all, blogging, are considered a sign of an undisciplined and romantic mind that is unlikely to produce a strong ongoing revenue stream.

I think the skepticism about writing, blogging and teaching too well are justified and that they are, indeed, signs of a impractical and naive sensibility. They suggest the candidate is a dreamy idealist who has confused the narrative of the academic quest with the reality of running a grant engine. Shtetl-Optimized is, alas, the most recent example of a young academic learning this lesson the hard way. [4/9/07: I should have read it a bit more closely. It was an alleged April Fools joke. Hmmphh. I hate when that happens. Since I was taken in, I won't attempt to judge the merits of the jest ... Still one might protest it was too plausible to be a top notch effort.]

I feel a bit guilty. As a keen reader of academics who blog, I am necessarily contributing to their vice and their downfall. It reminds me of why I stopped hitchhiking as a young man -- not so much because of the danger I experienced, but because I feared I was encouraging drivers to pick up other hitchhikers I'd met (among whom were a few very unsavory characters).

Perhaps I should restrict my reading to tenured faculty, such as Brad DeLong. On the other hand, I share the vice of these misguided academics and, arguably, their peril. Does that lessen my complicity?

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