Monday, July 25, 2005

Bloggers Need Not Apply?

Hmpf. Someone without the courage to reveal his/her name (writing as “Ivan Tribble”) has written a piece called ”Bloggers Need Not Apply” for The Chronicle of Higher Education. The point of the article is summed up by the last paragraph:
We've seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they've got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can't wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more.
Fair enough: you don’t want to know what you are getting but would rather the “unpleasant” surprises come later. Fine. But what does your attitude say about you and your hiring committee?

Before getting to that, however, let me go over the essay just a bit:

There’s an assumption behind Tribble’s article that what you see is what you get… and that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Find out too much about someone? Then you wouldn’t want to hire them. So, Tribble asks academic bloggers (especially job-seekers)
Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It's not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it's also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.

A blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet, a place to vent petty gripes and frustrations stemming from congested traffic, rude sales clerks, or unpleasant national news. It becomes an open diary or confessional booth, where inward thoughts are publicly aired.
There’s an obvious assumption here that such venting is bad… though the writer would have to admit that he/she does it often enough in the office and on the telephone. It’s the fact of being public about it, then, that is bad.

Hmmm.

Following the passage above is this:
Worst of all, for professional academics, it's a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution. After wrapping up a juicy rant at 3 a.m., it only takes a few clicks to put it into global circulation.

We've all done it -- expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we're giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend. There is a slight risk that the opinion might find its way to the wrong person's attention and embarrass us. Words said and e-mail messages sent cannot be retracted, but usually have a limited range. When placed on prominent display in a blog, however, all bets are off.
Tribble wants us constrained or, at least, to appear constrained. Experimentation and honesty are out… for they might “embarrass us.” Ouch!

All of this perplexed me, but then I got to the heart of the matter, the passage that showed me that this article isn’t really about bloggers at all, but (unknown to even Tribble while writing) is about the timidity of too many academic departments:
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.
So, anyone with the confidence and courage to risk looking like a fool, to risk showing those parts of themselves that are not carefully tailored, might also let slip that others in academia aren’t perfect either!

My! We certainly can’t let people like that have jobs, can we?

To me, the attitude expressed in Tribble’s essay is fundamentally dishonest; it is an example of the (dare I say it?) corruption of present-day academia. “We’re only interested in surfaces… and we don’t want anyone digging below the surfaces we present.” Masks: they are what is important, not the realitiy behind. Job seekers who are honest and open, showing exactly what they are (and, often exactly what they can do beyond what another of the mask-wearers could ever even consider) are not welcome.

These academics (and, fortunately, I don’t think Tribble is really an example of the standard attitude—though he/she may be an example of a certain powerful part of the academic establishment) probably pride themselves in their intellectual and academic rigor… but it is a rigor limited by self-imposed blinders, a rigor that keeps these scholars from that most important part of real thought: self-examination.

Towards the end of the article, Tribble writes
We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction. The search committee is composed of humans, who know that the applicants are humans, too, who have those things to hide. It's in your interest, as an applicant, for them to stay hidden, not laid out in exquisite detail for all the world to read. If you stick your foot in your mouth during an interview, no one will interrupt to prevent you from doing further damage. So why risk doing it many times over by blabbing away in a blog?
Tribble, I want my quirks known, want the buyer to understand completely what that buyer is getting. I would no more hide myself in a job search than I would put sawdust in the engine of a used car I am selling. You are telling me to be dishonest, all so I can get a job—so that you will only discover later what I really am (and only then experience buyer’s remorse).

No thanks. I will stick to my blogging, proud to be a real example of WYSIWYG.

3 comments:

Jon said...

Dishonesty about who you are and what you're up to is, in my experience, a common pressure in academia (at least in the social sciences, where I'm at). If you want to do anything controversial - whether it's doing work that challenges leading figures and assumptions in your field or simply running your own blog - the standard advice is "wait until you have tenure." The (unintentional?) problem with this is that it tends to either weed out or "reform" risk-takers and innovaters long before they get tenure. I wonder which discipline this "Ivan Tribble" came from?

AaronBarlow said...

It says on the site "humanities."

Clearly, Tribble didn't think through what he/she was saying.

Either that, or Tribble doesn't care a whit about honesty or risk-taking.

Jon said...

Ah yes - it's right there in the byline!