The Duck of Minerva

Brian’s Departure and the Duck

21 August 2013

I expect that our readers have seen Brian’s public letter of resignation, as well as Charli’s personal take on all this and Steve’s  discussion of the perils and rewards of blogging. This is a choice that Brian made on his own recognizance, one that he announced to the other permanent contributors in an email exchange.

Many of the emails that I’ve received since Thursday have expressed some combination of puzzlement, anger, dismay, and unhappiness at the absence of a collective statement from the Duck of Minerva. The general argument is that a blog of the Duck of Minerva‘s “stature” and “reach” must take a collective stance on Brian’s most recent post and on concerns about a pattern of sexist content in his work.

Indeed, we have been having intensive and ongoing discussions about how to proceed. These discussions–which explain the prolonged period of relative radio silence on the specifics of the controversy–kept on returning to a basic point: the blog’s policies are inconsistent with the notion of “collective statement” about the content of a member’s posts. The relevant bullet-point reads:

We are not a magazine or a journal. Each blogger is an independent writer who is responsible for his or her own content and who produces it free of charge for the benefit of those who feel like reading it. There is no full-time paid editor. We do not censor or modify the substance of posts. I occasionally edit an already-published piece to ensure it conforms to style guidelines, such as font, font size, line spacing, and so forth. But that’s it. So if you want to provide specific feedback on a blogger or on a post, it is most appropriate to email that blogger directly or leave a comment in the thread [emphasis added].

The act of posting a collective statement about the content of a post would, for many members of the team, vitiate these propositions. The Duck of Minerva would no longer be the same entity that has grown and prospered over the past nine years. It might not survive such a transformation. It would lose much of the vitality and idiosyncrasy that have defined it for nearly a decade.

Over the next few days you may see additional individual contributors talk about Brian’s departure or his posting. As always, these individuals speak for themselves and not some sort of collective. As always, if you disagree with their posts, find them offensive, or whatever you should make that clear in comments or in emails.

What does all this mean going forward? I expect that you’ll continue to see the same kind of freewheeling content that you expect from us. I also expect some more attention to issues involving enhancing the position of women and minorities within the discipline. There’s clearly a lot of work to be done, and I’d be very pleased if The Duck of Minerva became a safe and productive place for grappling with these important concerns. I’ve long championed the powers of new media to, at its best, build bridges and create conversations, to provide educational and professional resources, and otherwise help build community. To my surprise, the Duck  has enjoyed some success on all of these fronts.

I may have more to say in a later blog entry. I agree with Charli that Brian’s post crossed the line. Despite his mistakes and missteps, Brian shares the values I outlined above. He  came to the conclusion that resigning from the blog was a critical step in helping The Duck restore its credibility. After two years of blogging, that’s a hard decision to make. It is also a decision consistent with the Duck’s ethic of each blogger taking ownership of, and responsibility for, what he or she writes.