Sunday, July 10, 2005

On blogging job seekers

*sigh* Since I didn't think too much of this article on the dangers of blogs for job-seekers when I first read it, I resisted responding to it. Since it seems to have lit a fire under some of my fellow academic bloggers, I feel compelled to say something.

As I read the article, I thought, "Well, of course you don't publish your gripes about your workplace, lest others avoid having you as a co-worker." Then there was the personal stuff about applicants that they didn't like. Again, fair enough, I suppose, though we are starting to get into the area of unprofessional voyeurism when you google up an applicant and take offense at his hobby journal.

Then I got to this doozy, which was when I realized that the article had taken a sharp left turn and was heading south:

"The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum." [Emphasis added].

If a committee is not going to judge the merits of candidates based on their past behavior, then on what criteria should the committee base its opinion? I've served on a number of hiring committees, and in my mind past behavior is the MOST important criterion.

Sure, past publication record is no guarantee of future publications; past service is no guarantee of future service; past good teaching is no guarantee of future good teaching -- but when I see these things I think it more likely that a candidate will continue on with their past behavior. If, on the other hand, a candidate has no publications and has attended a single academic conference in their career, I'm likely to be skeptical of their claims that they are about to burst forth in an explosion of scholarly work. It might happen, but I doubt it.

Take, for example, my colleague Steven Taylor over at Poliblog. I'll use him as the example because we work at the same institution, and as he is tenured in a different department than I am, I'm pretty unlikely to ever serve on a hiring committee considering him. If I googled him up and saw his blog, what I'd find is more than two years worth of archives of sustained, serious thought about the political matters of the day. Why would I assume that after doing this for years he would suddenly begin violating professional decorum?

I can think of many legitimate reasons committees might object to a blog -- perhaps its content is unprofessional (as distinct from non-professional, such as a personal or hobby blog). Perhaps they might find that the candidate's theoretical approach is not what they wanted ("Gee, we advertised for a post-colonial guy, but he's an archtypal critic..."). Perhaps they find that the candidate is trying to pass off blog entries as publications equivalent to legitimate peer-reviewed kinds. But to reject candidates simply because they HAVE blogs? This seems to me silly, capricious, and a violation of professional standards.

As I don't have tenure, it is always possible I could find myself interviewing at the school "Ivan Tribble" hires for. I wish I knew which school it is, so that I could avoid applying. After all, their past bad behavior (of rejecting candidates for having personal blogs) is almost a guarantee of future lapses of professional decorum, and who would want to work in such a place?


  1. Anonymous11:10 PM

    Well said!

  2. As a current Ph.D. student and blogger, I think you're absolutely right about "Ivan Tribble"'s article. It's fascinating how he starts off on a point about which we could all agree (that it's foolish to web-publish department gossip, especially under your own name, or even go so far as to tell a hiring committee about it), and then dives into this pronouncement that any academic blog at all is a sign of the writer's possible lack of commitment or integrity. The Chronicle has been publishing a lot of pseudonymous nonsense by disgruntled academics these days. I wonder... maybe they'd be better off blogging?