The Duck of Minerva

New York Sun story on Dan Drezner and blogging

11 October 2005

The ripples on Dan’s tenure decision continue to spread. Today the New York Sun published an article entitled “Blogging Prof Fails To Heed His Own Advice” (hat tip: David M.). Key quotations:

On Friday, Mr. Drezner’s first blog entry came back to haunt him: He was informed by his department that he was denied tenure and would have to look elsewhere for a job.

Under normal circumstances, a scholar who is denied tenure assumes that the decision was simply a reflection of a department’s assessment of scholarship. In this case, Mr. Drezner and others are wondering whether the blog may have had an impact on his tenure status.

News of his tenure denial has struck a nerve in the growing community of academic bloggers, who are aware that blogging can be a double-edged sword: a powerful way to communicate scholarly ideas to the public and increase name recognition, and a risky venture in a field where every idea – even those roughly thrown together at 3 a.m. – matters.

While refusing to go into specifics about Mr. Drezner’s tenure case, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Chicago, Dali Yang, dismissed the notion that his department considered Mr. Drezner’s blog in making its decision. “I can assure you it’s not specifically about the blog,” he said.

I’m a bit disquieted about the amount of public scrutiny Dan’s tenure case is generating. I suppose one could argue that Dan invited this by being so public about the issue on his blog, culminating in his announcement of on Saturday that he would be looking for another job. But a part of me worries about the implications: for other non-tenured scholar-bloggers and for academia as a whole.

I imagine a number of tenured scholars may see the developing story as evidence that Ivan Tribble got it right. Bloggers are trouble. They invite unwanted scrutiny. Meanwhile, current efforts to Thachterize the American academy have more bogus arguments for their cause: “look, a well-respected (center-right!) public intellectual didn’t get tenure; more evidence of the insularity and narrowness of those lefty academics.”

Honestly, I don’t think there’s much of a story here. Dan would have easily gotten tenure at many institutions, but the University of Chicago has particularly high standards and now he’ll have to look for another great place to land.

I feel bad for Dan. Getting fired is painful, even if it comes under the category of “tenure denial.” Those are the words we non-tenured academics spend six (or so) years of our lives dreading, and are the specter that makes the life of an Assistant Professor subject to profound undercurrents of stress and anxiety. But, as I wrote earlier, Dan will be fine. He’s an impressive scholar and has done wonderful service for the cause of informed public political discourse. What more could a lot of excellent universities and colleges want?

I stand by what I wrote when Ivan Tribble first published his snarky piece in the Chronicle.

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