Blogging and Public Anthropology: When free speech costs a career
As many of us know, Yale anthropologist David Graeber has been fired for his anarchist activism. He's not the only one who was punished for leaving the academic ivory tower. More and more academics have started blogging, exposing their personal opinions to the world. The Yale Herald has an interesting story about "how profs' political advocacy outside academia can threaten their success within it":
The recent explosion of professors using their academic bully pulpits to expound on everything from federal sentencing law to the need for a Palestinian state raises questions of responsibility and consequence. Every year, more professors join the blogosphere, expanding into a medium that lets them write anything about anything and makes them advocates as well as teachers.
Mazin Qumsiyeh for example was hired by the Yale School of Medicine:
He had advocated locally and nationally for Palestinian rights under his title as a Yale professor. Five years later, he was looking for a new job.
Qumsiyeh is the editor of Qumsiyeh: A Human Rights Web.
Last year, Yale decided to woo Professor Juan Cole away from Michigan. Then it changed its mind:
The provost’s office refused to comment on the reasons for his rejection; Dr. Cole refused to comment on this story. But many eyes turned toward Cole’s blog as a factor in the decision, one that may have raised his profile and polarized opinion on his candidacy. On his site, “Informed Comment,” Cole has provided commentary on the news coming out of the Middle East since 2001.
And the popular anarchist anthropologist David Graeber was invited to give this year’s Malinowski lecture, an honor given only to the world’s most promising young anthropologists. His contract went up for renewal last year:
He had been a controversial figure, but now finds sleeping on couches in his friends’ New Haven apartments after giving up his lease.
When Graeber returned from a one-year sabbatical in 2002—having joined forces in the interim with anti-war and anti-globalization groups such as the Direct Action Network and Ya Basta — he said he found his welcome back much colder than his farewell. “I thought a ‘hello’ would have been reasonable,” he said. “All of the sudden, no one was talking to me.” He continued to be a prolific writer and researcher, but his future no longer looked so rosy.
Interesting. But if you use your title in a context where the title is of no interest to the story or case, you should think twice. A professor is a representative of the University, as long as she/he use the title. It is not forbidden to tell your profession, but the title should not be used in a wrong context.
Regardless of this: Professsors have the right to express their opinions as everyone else has.
Perhaps they should have thougt of writing under a nickname…
There are a number of problems here. One has to do with the concatenation of details: “Yale hired so and so…and then five years later…and then when the contract came up for renewal…Yale let the person go.” Yale is now famous for doing that, to all tenure-track assistant professors, regardless of their extramural activities. Getting an assistant professorship at Yale is little more than a glorified post-doc., and people who apply to work there need to be cognizant of that fact.
The second problem has to do with academic freedom. In my university, as in most if not all Canadian universities, academic freedom is enshrined in a legally binding contract. I *never* “represent” the University–that’s not my job, not even when I work in it. I am hired to do specific tasks, and representation is not one of them. There is a Public Relations Dept. for that. Indicating my occupation on my blog does not mean I speak for the University, and academic freedom reigns regardless. My university is also quite proud to list the blogs that professors have, without endorsing their content. So we need to have a healthier view of what constraints professors work under, and not start heaping all sorts of unreasonable ones on top of them.
Using a nickname is a VERY BAD IDEA, and it is one sure way to get your blog dismissed by those looking to establish the qualifications and background of the author.
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