Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee’s experience is any indication.
You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, “Oh, no one will see it anyway.” Don’t count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.
The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.
I have two opinions about this article. On one hand, I am cringing at the behaviour of some of the blogging candidates the author mentions. These people appear to be keeping named, public blogs wherein they talk about things as if the search committee (or their students, parents, and exes) will never see it. This is one of the issues I wish bloggers would be more conscious about; there is no hiding on the internet, there is no difference between a formal conversation and kitchen table banter on the internet. This isn’t a matter of “dance as if nobody was watching”. Dance as if the world’s eyes are on you.
However, the author of this opinion piece is expressing more about the toxic environment of his own department than he is about any of the bloggers he interviewed. One of the bloggers he nixed has a phd in the humanities, but also has a passion for computer hardware and software. Rather than be pleased about this well-rounded candidate who would be a valuable addition and support in the areas of personal computing and instructional technology, this department chose to see his technological hobby as threatening. The “technogeek” is not a true academic, because he has other interests beyond his (apparently solid) research. The ideal candidate for this department is one who will not even potentially share interests with any other department in the university. Note to applicants: while you may have other interests, it’s best to keep those a secret. While interdisciplinarity is interesting in principle, in general it’s best not to rock the boat and do anything vaguely different. Additionally, while universities are heading in a technological direction for teaching and learning, those who abhor computers and prefer a pencil and paper for communication are preferred.
The author of this article is also seriously concerned that the bloggers are using this self-publishing platform to air opinions about current events. This, also, is apparently a bad idea. While every academic search committee must know that people with phds are prone to thinking, arguing, and expressing their views, this committee apparently prefers to imagine that each candidate has no opinions; at least, none that anyone will ever find out about. A blank slate candidate is better than a known quantity, apparently. This part of the article begs the question: what’s the point of academics in society? In the grand scheme of things, aren’t the learned supposed to be guiding society, presenting views, correcting misinformation in the mass media and in our culture in general, and adding to the collective knowledge and understanding of a society? Apparently, when it comes to getting a job, it would be best if candidates appear meek, mild, and without opinions, ready to be inoffensive to everyone she meets. Again, I realize full well that there are inappropriate rants that get published on blogs, and I’m the first to cringe at them and work on writing up the blogging policy, but doesn’t it seems odd to disqualify a candidate because s/he is prepared to express opinions in any forum? It would be nice if the concept of academic freedom actually meant that academics generally respected and supported the idea of free thought and expression for everyone, but apparently this doesn’t work everywhere.
Finally, the author notes that merely having a blog is a negative for a candidate, because his department is concerned that such a public individual would air dirty laundry. If anything is revealing about the author’s department, this is. Rather than be afraid of an outspoken new hire, wouldn’t it be best to actually clean that dirty laundry? Make the department one that no one would want to air dirty laundry about? Re-invent it as a positive, non-toxic place to work?
I’m glad these blogging candidates didn’t get the job in the department described in this article. It seems to me that they (any of them) could do better.