Drezner's Denial and Academic Blogging:

So academic blogger extraordinaire Daniel Drezner was denied tenure at the University of Chicago last week. This was quite a surprise to Drezner's readers (as, he admits, it was to him). I am far from an expert in Drezner's fields of expertise, but I share the sentiment expressed by many of his commenters that I expect him to land on his feet.

An obvious question is what, if any, impact Drezner's blogging had on his tenure vote. From the launch of his blog, Drezner openly acknowledged the risks of blogging for an untenured academic. Senior colleagues may object to the content of blog posts on political grounds, or due to blogs' non-academic tone and content. Time spent blogging may come at the expense of one's academic work -- or it may just appear that way to one's colleagues (particularly those who may be less prominent or less productive). I've often heard academics disparage non-academic writing in terms that suggest it could be a negative in the tenure process, irrespective of the quality of academic work under review. This is one of the reasons I've blogged under a pseudonym -- and will at least until my own tenure vote -- as I want my file, and the work therein, judged on the merits. In my view, that I spend some of my free time blogging is no more relevant to the process than a colleagues' decision to spend his or her time attending theater, performing in dance recitals, or raising children, but there is no guarantee that one's colleagues will agree. Given the stakes involved -- and I suspect they are greater for those lower down the food chain than the University of Chicago -- I decided it was not worth the risk.

As for Drezner, I am happy to report that he has few regrets about his blog.

The very first words I wrote on this blog were: "I shouldn't be doing this. I'll be going up for tenure soon." This is a theme that I've touched on several times since then. The point is, I can't say I didn't go into this with my eyes open.

That said, if one assumes that the opportunity cost of blogging (e.g., better or more scholarship) was the difference between tenure and no tenure -- an unclear assertion at best -- then it's a tough call. From a strict cost-benefit analysis, one could argue that the doors that blogging opened could have been deferred for a few years in return for the annuity of a tenured position at Chicago. That said, if I did things only for the money, I never would have entered the academy in the first place. And I've enjoyed the psychic rewards of blogging way too much to regret my choice.

As one of his many fans, I hope this means he will keep on blogging, even if not from the Windy City.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Drezner on Blogging & Tenure -- Seven Days Later:
  2. Drezner's Denial and Academic Blogging:
erp (mail):
There was no way Drezner would have been given tenure even if his blog was as leftwing moonbat as a Ward Churchill essay.

JNV it's too bad it has to be this way, but you're right to keep your identity secret and I hope the rest of the conspirators are all safely tenured or out of academe.
10.9.2005 8:41pm
GMUSL 1L (mail):
Like Drezner ('90), I'm a Williams alum.

It would be a coup for Williams if he would return, both in terms of PR and in terms of a non-leftist in the PSCI dept.
10.9.2005 8:57pm
Harsh Pencil (mail):
I would like to see the tenure rates for Drezner's department. For most academic departments at place as high up as Chicago, only a small minority of non-tenured professors are granted tenure (with or without blogging). Simply put, the standard for tenure is, is this the best person we can get? No credit is given for having worked there for six or nine years, and everyone knows this going in. The upside is that those denied tenure with a good research record usually do not fall very far. They get tenured offers from almost as high up Universities.
10.9.2005 10:38pm
Sweet, now we can get him here on tenure track at Columbia.
10.9.2005 11:03pm
Squiggler (mail) (www):
You say you blog under a pseudonym until you get tenure so your blogging won't influence the tenure granting process. One would assume that your concerns are for how your blogging would impact negatively. I just don't understand why anyone would want to work somewhere their free speech rights or their private activity could impact their long term employment in this way. Of course, I also am not a supporter of the tenure system (as a nonacademic) since it is structured to breed ineptness, poor quality of teaching, and limited scope of ideas once lifetime tenure is in place. When I want a good read or need to do research, I'll buy a book, go to the library, or head to the Internet. When I want a good teacher for myself or my children, I want someone who demonstrates that those who take the class actually learn something. How many times the teacher has published for his or her peers says absolutely nothing about that person's ability to teach effectively. Case in point, the most exciting and effective science teacher I ever had didn't even graduate from high school and yet several of his students went on to careers with NASA, Scripps Oceanography, and other hands on science careers and name him as the person who "lit their fire" to science. Why brilliant teachers and brilliant researchers will sell their souls and are so willing to be restricted and academically stifled just baffles me.
10.9.2005 11:21pm
BryanAWS (mail) (www):
I just don't understand why anyone would want to work somewhere their free speech rights or their private activity could impact their long term employment in this way.

And exactly where would such a situation *not* exist? The list of people fired because of their blogging is long and getting longer. The list of people who've been told to shut down their blogs is likewise long and growing longer. The list of companies that now have policies limiting blogging is long and growing longer.

Welcome to the hegemony, man. Your purity is admirable. Too bad it doesn't always pay the bills.
10.9.2005 11:40pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
I suspect that the green eyed monster played a larger part in this tragedy than most would suspect. It must really grate on an old gray beard to go abroad, introduce himself as a Learned Professor at the World Famous University of Chicago, and have his audience start in praising a lowly untenured wet-behind-the-ears assistant professor.

Juan, my man, you are the right one, and Daniel, may he rest in peace, was wrong, University departments are powered by greed, ego, petty politics and jealousy. Give them any rope and they will hang you.

Bloggers beware!
10.10.2005 12:42am
erp (mail):
Having been on the administrative end of higher/ed for some years, I can tell you that many, if not all tenured faculty are passionate only about their office and parking assignments and other non-academic perks, bells and whistles. Scholarship? Don't be silly.

After tenure they go into standby mode and stay there until they achieve emeritus status after which they dodder and mutter around campus waiting for that final faculty meeting ….
10.10.2005 9:49am
I suspect that Harsh Pencil has hit on the major issue. It's well-known in academia that places like Chicago, Harvard, and Yale /rarely/ tenure assistant professors. They hire them, demand that they publish like hell, then let them go at tenure time. The ranks of tenured faculty are filled with people who have already established their scholalrly chops somewhere else.

This happened at Harvard to a good friend of mine, whose book won the major award in our subfiled the year before he was denied tenure. The upside is that tenure denial at these schools is so routine that it is not counted against the candidate when he or she applies at other universities. The net effect is that of a really busy but prestigious (and lengthy) post-doc. I don't consider it humane--dangling the grand-prize that you know you'll almost certainly yank away at the last minute. But hypocrisy at universitites isn't new: Our faculty where I teach almost univerally proclaim their liberal humanitarianism, but our support staff work for peanuts.

On the other hand, my friend landed very much on his feet, and now teaches at a "US News Top 20" research university. Our support staff, on the other hand, still live in genteel poverty.
10.10.2005 12:15pm
The point of tenure is not to have or keep good teachers, its to draw good researchers. Research is what drives the reputation of good schools, not their teaching qualifications. If you want your child to have good teachers, send him to Young Harris or another similar teaching college. But if you want your child to have any knowledge that is less than 20 years old, then he has to go to a school where the professors do research and keep up with the field. The value of attending a good research school is in the quality of knowledge presented, not in how it is taught.
The point of tenure is to attract good researchers and allow them the freedom to not worry about their jobs as they pursue difficult academic questions which may take years to solve. This way they can pursue those questions that may be unsolvable and don't have to worry about having results in six months or a year. If tenure did not exist, the difficult problems might never be solved.
10.10.2005 12:46pm

It's simply not the case that good undergraduate teachers have out-of-date knowledge of their fields. In addition, the vast majority of academic research and writing is quite specialized. As a result, the research that a scholar produces may have very little impact upon his or her syllabus in undergraduate courses. This is not to say that top researchers cannot be good undergraduate teachers. But it's certainly not the case that professors at liberal arts colleges are /harming/ their students by failing to produce narrow monographs.
10.10.2005 1:20pm
You are right that the research an academic produces is often narrow in scope. But the research an academic READS in order to keep up to date so they are able to publish is not narrow, and this is what researchers can offer their undergraduate students. Some teaching school professors may keep up with the advancements in their field, and it has been my experience that some research professors are also good at teaching, but they are hired for different purposes.
This is far more important in science and engineering fields than it is for the liberal arts.
10.10.2005 2:48pm
Houston Lawyer:
Outside of the federal judiciary and our university systems, no one has tenure anymore. I don't see any reason to continue this practice in our universities. While tenure is usually defended as a protection for those who have it, it appears to give license to its intended beneficiaries to abuse all others within their domain. Who is more likely to chase off great scholars, the university who employs such scholars or tenured has-beens who feel their positions threatened? Or is the thought that it is perfectly acceptable to deal arbitrarily with young talent as long as the old guard is left alone?
10.10.2005 3:57pm

After I posted, your final point crossed my mind: An active research agenda in the lab contributes to science and engineering education in a vital way. I don't think that this is necessarilly the case in, say, English.

Thanks for the correction. I don't want to be a "discipline-snob"!
10.10.2005 4:01pm
Slocum (mail):
But if you want your child to have any knowledge that is less than 20 years old, then he has to go to a school where the professors do research and keep up with the field.

Well, the bleeding edge of research in practically any field can be had for the price of an internet connection if you know where to look (and it doesn't take long to figure that out). What you get when you send your child to top research university is often indifferent teaching but a valuable brand-name logo tattooed on their...diploma when they leave.

But I'm being a bit too harsh. You no longer need to go anywhere for up-to-date information. Under the best of circumstances, what you're hoping for a student to get is an opportunity to see and interact with masters practicing their craft and to be inspired. That is, admittedly, much harder to come by without going to the source.
10.11.2005 9:49am
Mike Stiber (www):
It seems like the custom here to use a pseudonym; please excuse me but, as a has-been, I lack the creativity to think of one.

Houston Lawyer wrote:

Outside of the federal judiciary and our university systems, no one has tenure anymore. I don't see any reason to continue this practice in our universities.

Universities have one good reason: they'd have to double faculty salaries (to levels paid by industry) in science, engineering, and business. Tenure has economic value to faculty. Only a very few tenured faculty are really "dead wood" (just because you can't be fired doesn't mean that your life can't be made unpleasant); it doesn't usually fit in with the type of personality that leads to (even brief) academic success (where getting for done requires self-discipline, as you have no boss or non-self-imposed deadlines for your work). So, the university benefits by being able to pay significantly lower salaries at little risk to itself.
10.12.2005 3:34am
user (mail):
Actually, my experience, moving from a research institution to a liberal arts college, is that many of my colleagues, while not research engaged, are actually far more widely read and up to date on their fields than my erstwhile colleagues.

While I miss the fertility and excitement of the research endeavor, I do not miss the excessive narrowness of many of my R-1 colleagues.
10.12.2005 8:13pm
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