Call It “Pseudonymous Bosh”

Now, both Micah and David have pointed to a relatively foolish article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the point of which is that academic job-seekers shouldn’t blog. Why? Well, if a search committee sees your blog and doesn’t like what they see, they might not hire you. They will fear that you’d tell a reading public about what their institution is really like. They prefer to hire someone about whom they know less, on the assumption that the bits they don’t know about will all be agreeable and impressive.

The fatuities and fallacies therein defy enumeration. To take it from the top, the article assumes that a job-seeker should want a job so desperately that she or he would want to be hired by a department that wouldn’t choose her or him if they knew the truth. It assumes that if they don’t know you’re a blogger when they hire you, you won’t embarrass them at any point in the future (and that if you’ve blogged soundly and discreetly for years, you’re more apt to spill tawdry details than someone who hasn’t established a track record for public discretion). It assumes that blogs constitute a unique mode of public communication — so that a disgruntled blogger poses more of a decorum risk than would a disgruntled academic novelist.

The article puts the search committee in a bad light, since it demonstrates that they made unsatisfactory choices for finalists. The problems among these candidates weren’t the blogs per se, but with character flaws that came into focus through the blog (or, in one case, apart from the blog — though the columnist seems to count the blog against that candidate anyway!). Does the pseudonymous columnist think that Duke wouldn’t have hired Mark Goodacre if they’d known? that George Mason wouldn’t have hired Dorothea if they’d known? Maybe Penn [State] can find a way to dump Michael Bérubé; what an embarrassment he must be!

The article says a very great deal more about the competence and insight of the author and the search committee than it says about blogging.

7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. and yet,

    I’ve heard from a few friends that their blogging has caused rather great problems trying to land pastoral jobs. Somewhat different situation than academic jobs, but you never know what foolishness can potentially enter the mind of any particular search committee. Certainly anyhing one says “on the record” has the potential to be used agianst one.

    All leads back to one of my fundamental convictions about blogging, though, which is that you shouldn’t write anything you would be ashamed to have made known in the future or that would generally seem offensive, though the Lord knows you can’t avoid offending people completely.

  2. I think that a whole different ideology is in play for the divergent ways of looking at this issue, in academic as well as pastoral hiring.

    On one hand, people think that the importance of landing a job weighs so heavily that it’s worth withholding pertinent information, giving a misleading impression of who you are, in order to obtain that position.

    On the other hand, some people think that candor matters more than getting-this-job — not in the sense that “it’s better to be honest and unemployed than cagey and employed” (that’s a false binary distinction) but in the sense that it’s highly unlikely that one will get a liveable job by way of creating a false impression. Sure, I expect that someone can cite a counter-example (“They’d never have hired me if they’d known I was an anarchist, and now I’m the beloved Department Chair!”), but on the whole I can’t imagine that withholding information makes sense as a strategy for finding a place you’ll fit in well.

    I foresee a lot of extra conflict in situations where people take the advice this pseudonymous author offers.

  3. I was about to agree wholeheartedly, AKMA, but on further consideration, I think there’s an issue with the word “pertinent.” Different folks have different ideas about what’s pertinent in a job candidate, not to mention that some employers (Tribble included, obviously) haven’t got sufficient honor to pretend they didn’t see what is clearly NOT pertinent information.

    (I do think that if “Prof Shrill” were to recognize herself — and she is almost certainly a her — she’s got fodder for an ADA lawsuit. If whatever mental problems Tribble thinks she has don’t mean anything for her ability to do the job, I earnestly hope Tribble likes courtrooms. Of course, the stigma against mental illness being what it is, Shrill probably won’t sue. But I for one wish she would.)

    There’s also a difference between a misleading presentation of self and a merely *incomplete* one. Somebody somewhere (I’ll never find the post again, darn it) pointed out that humans tend to assume that a characteristic they don’t know about a stranger is just like them and therefore good, whereas a known difference becomes salient and is cause for distrust. So leaving lots of whitespace, so to speak, is a productive strategy. It’s worth (I say with a sigh) thinking seriously about the consequences of filling in that whitespace.

    I’m still with your second group of folks. I’ve got a forceful enough personality that it genuinely is wiser for me to self-disclose in order to find a good fit. But I sympathize with the concerns of the pseudonymous a bit more than I once did.

  4. Maybe Penn can find a way to dump Michael B?©rub?©; what an embarrassment he must be!

    Hey, don’t go giving anybody any ideas, now. Besides, I’m actually at Penn State. Don’t tell them, though — they don’t know I’m here.

  5. Maybe Penn can find a way to dump Michael Bérubé; what an embarrassment he must be!

    Hey, don’t go giving anybody any ideas, now. Besides, I’m actually at Penn State. Don’t tell them, though — they don’t know I’m here.

  6. I was told two different lines of advice by the “pulpit committee” gurus in the ABC [Ed. to readers — that’s “American Baptist Convention”]. First, do not let them (the pulpit committee) know that you have a blog if you have one. The usual response is fear and a morbid fascination with what kind of polemic one must shout from the blogiverse to want to be there in the first place.

    Blog = fanatic.

    The second piece is more in line with your post. Perhaps it is wiser to keep a blog, recognise that it is a public forum, and post your thoughts.

    I tend to think of my blog as a classroom where I teach or a radio station that broadcasts my words to whomever tunes in. That way, even if my traffic is low (70/day?), I am always aware that my voice is being sent somewhere.

    Thus endeth this lesson.
    Amen.

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