Blogging Without Tenure
posted by Daniel Solove
At a panel at the AALS conference this year entitled Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction?, Randy Barnett suggested that blogging may not be wise for untenured legal scholars. [Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog (and overlord of the Caron Law Professor Blogging Empire) has the complete highlights of the panel here.]
Is blogging advisable for untenured scholars? I bet that the answer differs in each specific discipline, and I’ll focus my observations on the law. I believe that blogging can be great for untenured legal scholars, but it must be done in the right way.
Why is blogging good for the younger legal scholar?
1. Exposure and Name-Recognition. Blogging brings a level of exposure that junior scholars often do not achieve until much later on in their careers. More people will get exposed to their ideas, read their work, and recognize their name. It often takes years of networking and publishing to develop name recognition in legal academia. Blogging provides a head start.
2. Symposium Invitations. When law reviews or professors are planning symposia, they often brainstorm about whom to invite, and those who most readily come to mind often wind up on the list of presenters. Junior scholar bloggers are at an advantage since there names are more likely to be known.
3. Exposure Beyond One’s Field. Blogging enables scholars to get exposure outside of their fields. There are many scholars whose work I generally won’t be familiar with because I’m not researching or writing in their area. Unless those scholars are particularly well-known, I won’t be too familiar with them. But I may know about them from the blogosphere. When somebody asks me who writes about corporate law, a field I know little about, I immediately think of the folks at the Conglomerate or of Dave Hoffman or Nate Oman here at Concurring Opinions.
4. Popularizing One’s Field. Blogging introduces others to one’s field. My field is information privacy law, which is a small yet growing field. Many of the readers of my posts do not write or research in privacy law, yet my blogging exposes them to the current issues in that field. My hope is that by writing about these issues, more people will find them as interesting as I do, and will start thinking about them, talking about them, and even writing about them (and then I might get some cites — yippee!). And there are probably many law student readers who will one day be law professors and who might, after reading about the issues in the blog, be interested in writing and teaching about information privacy law.
5. Networking. Through blogging, one can network with others. To some extent, blogging is akin to a gigantic conference online, where people can meet and discuss issues. I’ve personally met many other scholars through blogging . . . my co-bloggers, for example. If it weren’t for blogging, I probably wouldn’t know my co-bloggers, and I’m glad I do, because they’re very smart and interesting.
6. Lateral Moves. Blogging probably helps professors in the lateral market, although I’m being speculative at this point. When schools look for laterals, it often begins with a brainstorm for names. And bloggers, because they might be read by other professors every day, are often names that readily come to mind.
7. Google Love. Blogging gets professors more “Google love” — better positioning in Google searches for various topics. As a result, academics, journalists, law students, and others doing a search for a particular topic might come across a blogger’s work.
8. Sharing Ideas More Broadly. Blogging enables scholars to reach beyond the ivory tower, to write in a way that is more widely accessible. It facilitates more interdisciplinary connections between academics; I believe that there are professors in other disciplines beyond law who read this blog, and I value the ability to share my ideas with them. Blogging engages many others in a scholar’s ideas, including law students, legal practitioners, politicians and their staffers, government officials, lay people, and more. Since law professors often write about current legal and political issues, their work has practical implications, and their work can maximize its impact if it reaches beyond the confines of the invory tower.
There are certainly caveats. One should be careful about the following:
1. Reputation. Blogging affects one’s reputation. If one sounds shrill, frivolous, or stupid in one’s blogging, it will have an adverse effect on her academic reputation — even if her scholarship might be good. Of course, blogging is a more informal activity, and one’s blogging is assessed with this in mind, but junior bloggers should be careful that those reading their posts think that they are intelligent, considerate, balanced, and thoughtful.
2. Scholarship. Blogging can be a distraction from scholarship. Indeed, blogging takes up a ton of time. As a junior scholar, scholarship must come first. If blogging is distracting or inhibiting scholarly productivity, then stop. But I believe that there’s a way to blog that doesn’t overly inhibit scholarly productivity — and that is to use blogging as a way to develop one’s scholarly ideas. I often blog about cases and issues I intend to include in my casebook. In this way, blogging is my way of keeping current with my field. I blog about issues that I will be discussing in articles and books. Blogging is thus my way of doing some very preliminary work on larger scholarly projects.
I like to think of blogging as an “enhancer” for a junior scholar’s career. It doesn’t replace the primary requirements of being a good law professor — scholarship and teaching — but it is a way to enhance one’s exposure to other law scholars and to the rest of the world. Exposure isn’t good if there’s nothing worth exposing, but for a junior scholar producing good scholarship, blogging can greatly augment her career.
IV. OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST
1. Stephen Bainbridge, Blogging and Tenure (Oct. 13, 2005)
“Yet, blogging has another impact-related function, which is to provide a vehicle for being a public intellectual, which is a perfectly legitimate aspect of academic life.”
2. Larry Ribstein, The Drezner Tenure Denial (Oct. 11, 2005)
“The bottom line is that it’s impossible for a tenure committee to credibly ignore a candidate’s blog.”
3. Larry Ribstein, Blogging and Tenure (June 22, 2005)
“[B]logging will force us to come up not only with standards for judging blogging that is scholarship, but also better standards for judging scholarship that is not blogging.”
4. Larry Ribstein, Blogging as Academic Publishing (Apr. 12, 2005)
“The problem is that blogs run the gamut from the really useful and insightful (e.g. my new colleague Larry Solum) to useless navel gazing (I’m not going to fill in that blank).”
5. Eugene Volokh, Brian Leiter’s View of the Tenure Process (June 22, 2005)
“One’s nonscholarly writings, such as columns in a local alternative newspaper, blog posts, and the like might be seen as a form of community service; but they are not a major factor [in the tenure decision].”
6. Daniel Drezner, So Friday Was a Pretty Bad Day (Oct. 8, 2005)
“The political science department voted to deny me tenure. Next year at this time, I will no longer be residing in Hyde Park or teaching at the University of Chicago.” (Drezner’s experience may not be of significant relevance to law professors, however, as he was in a different academic discipline).
7. Daniel Drezner, So Friday Was a Pretty Good Day (Nov. 5, 2005)
“I have formally accepted an offer to be an Associate Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, starting in the summer of 2006. Next year at this time, I will be teaching students pursuing a M.A.L.D. (Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy) or a Ph.D. at Tufts University in Medford, MA. . . . I will be a tenured professor.”
8. Orin Kerr, Boynton on Academic Blogging (Nov. 16, 2005)
“[A]cademic blogging is more challenging than traditional scholarly writing. At its best, it’s scholarship without a safety net. The traditional model imposes lots of layers of review between an author and his audience. . . . In contrast, blog posts are unfiltered.”
9. Robert Boynton, Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs (Nov. 16, 2005)
“But in another sense, academic blogging represents the fruition, not a betrayal, of the university’s ideals. One might argue that blogging is in fact the very embodiment of what the political philosopher Michael Oakshott once called “The Conversation of Mankind”–an endless, thoroughly democratic dialogue about the best ideas and artifacts of our culture.”
10. Henry Farrell, The Blogosphere as a Carnival of Ideas (Oct. 7, 2005)
“Both group blogs and the many hundreds of individual academic blogs that have been created in the last three years are pioneering something new and exciting. They’re the seeds of a collective conversation, which draws together different disciplines (sometimes through vigorous argument, sometimes through friendly interaction), which doesn’t reproduce traditional academic distinctions of privilege and rank, and which connects academic debates to a broader arena of public discussion.”
11. Doug Berman, How Might We Improve Blogs as an Academic Medium (Aug. 1, 2005)
“I seriously doubt blogs will ever evolve into a required medium for law professors: I suspect tenure committees in the future are unlikely to be concerned that a junior prof has not done enough blogging, just as tenure committees now are unlikely to be concerned that a junior prof has not written enough op-eds.”
12. Liz Aloi, Bridging the Divide Between the Blogsphere and Law Reviews (Oct. 29, 2005)
“What is becoming clear, however, is that blogs can give practicing lawyers a window into the world of legal scholarship when they otherwise might not have the time, resources or patience to read a law review article.”
12. Larry Ribstein, Do Bloggers Just Want to Have Fun? (Aug. 2, 2005)
“So what, exactly, is the difference between my blogging and academic writing? Mainly, I’m a bit less elaborate about the former, and some subjects don’t cross over. Note what what is not different about them. I’m writing both for “fun” in a sense – the sense being that I’m involved in the subject.”
12. Ron Wright, Blogs and Academic Disciplines (July 30, 2005)
“I’m not saying that blogging and academic work will become antagonistic. But legal scholars will need to show how the blog format serves as a supplement to their other academic work, and not an efficient replacement for much of that work. If that distinction does not become obvious to readers, legal scholars will look more and more like misfits in the university.”
13. Stephen Bainbridge, Bloggers Just Wanna Have Fun (Aug. 1, 2005)
“Blogging has become a hobby not an adjunct for work. I blog because it provides an outlet for ideas, complaints, political rants, religious speculation, pictures of my adorable dogs, cellar notes on my wine collection, etc. Hence, the last thing in the world I want is for blogging to “supplement [my] other academic work,” let alone replace it.”
14. Orin Kerr, Why Blogs Will Not Replace Law Reviews (July 6, 2005)
“Blog posts are about what happened today, yesterday, maybe last week. They are quick reactions to current events and current issues, and for the most part are forgotten a few days after they have been posted. In contrast, law review articles take the long view. They are meant to last.”
15. David Zaring, Blogarship? Scholarlog? (July 6, 2005)
“Maybe the readers who adore your posts will be articles editors at journals you adore! Maybe they’ll be colleagues at other schools who wouldn’t otherwise read your stuff! If so, it contributes to my pet thesis that outsiders cotton to blogging more than do insiders.”
16. Daniel Solove, Blog Posts: Conversation or Publication? (Nov. 1, 2005)
“I can’t quite resolve how blogging should be treated. It is a new kind of fusion between conversation and publication, and the standards for how to assess a person’s blogging in evaluating his or her intellectual reptutation remain very under-developed.”