Another blogging academic has failed to get tenure, this time Juan Cole at Yale University. Seven bloggers discuss the case in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education: Can Blogging Derail Your Career? I enclose excerpts below from two.
Brad DeLong (UC Berkeley) waxes lyrical about the invisible college:
I would like a larger college, an invisible college, of more people to talk to, pointing me to more interesting things. People whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well. It would be really nice to have Paul Krugman three doors down, so I could bump into him occasionally and ask, "Hey, Paul, what do you think of .. ."
...Over the past three years, with the arrival of Web logging, I have been able to add such people to those I bump into — in a virtual sense — every week. My invisible college is paradise squared, for an academic at least.
Here are his hopes:
The hope of all of us who blog is that we will become smarter, do more useful work, be happier and more productive, and will also impress our deans so they will raise our salaries. The first three hopes are clearly true: Academics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world — both the academic and the broader worlds — and are happier for it. Are we more productive in an academic sense? Maybe. We will see when things settle down.
Blogs and prestigious university appointments do not mix terribly well. That is because top departments are profoundly risk-averse when it comes to senior hires. In some ways, that caution is sensible — hiring a senior professor is the equivalent of signing a baseball player to a lifetime contract without any ability to release or trade him. In such a situation, even small doubts about an individual become magnified.
The trouble with blogs is that they seem designed to provoke easy doubts. Blogs are an outlet for unexpurgated, unreviewed, and occasionally unprofessional musings. What makes them worth reading can also make them prone to error. Any honest scholar-blogger — myself included — could acknowledge a post or two that they would like to have back. At a place like Yale, one bad blog post can erase a lot of good will very quickly.
There are other risks. At Chicago, I found that some of my colleagues overestimated the time and effort I put into my blog — which led them to overestimate lost opportunities for scholarship. Other colleagues maintained that they never read blogs — and yet, without fail, they come into my office once every two weeks to talk about a post of mine. Today's senior faculty members look at blogs the way a previous generation of academics looked at television — as a guilty, tawdry pleasure that should not be talked about in respectable circles.
Mark Thoma (University of Oregon) responds on blogging and academics:
I don't think my University or my Department gets the whole blogging thing yet. The perception of those who have never read blogs, and even some who have, is far from the reality. Personally, I'm not doing this for them so I don't care all that much, and tenure let's me do what I think is best.
...I can safely say that I have learned more than I ever would have imagined doing this. I can actually talk somewhat intelligently on a wide array of topics, more so than ever, and it's been great participating in and presenting debates on issues such as income distribution, skill premia, fixed exchange rates, immigration, free trade, and so many other topics outside of my main research area. And I also have a much better sense of how the public views what we do. Every economist should have to sell ideas to the public once in awhile and listen to what they say. There's a lot to learn.