a piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms, designed to accommodate one person
My proseminar on sociology as a profession is supposed to sensitize first-year graduate students to career issues such as collaboration, publication, the job market, and department and university administration. Enjoying our first class together yesterday, I realized my impending administrative responsibilities will color the tone and content of anything I say in public, including op-eds and blog entries. I explain this to first-years and advisees using the (trite and true) "hat" metaphor. Faculty wear several different hats -- as "citizens" with moral and political thoughts and beliefs, as "experts" in our area of research and teaching, and as representatives or spokespersons for our departments or universities. We try to keep track of which hat(s) we're wearing, but the lines sometimes blur. Even when I'm writing as an "expert" I get nervous appending "University of Minnesota Department of Sociology" to, say, an opinion piece or essay on felon disenfranchisement.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this summer on three cases in which speech that would likely be "bad but permissible" for regular faculty seemed especially ugly and really problematic coming from a department head. According to Scott Jaschik's article, "chairs are more vulnerable to having their statements scrutinized and their rights to speak out on certain issues curtailed by virtue of their positions. They have academic freedom, but they are demoted over controversial statements -- even though those statements wouldn't cost them their tenure." The best chairs act as honest delegates and effective representatives for their departments. I'm not worried about being "demoted" but wouldn't want anything I say to reflect poorly on my department or colleagues. I'm not planning to write anything hateful (as appears to be the case in a couple "demotions"), but I can't be sure that I won't right something dumb. See what I mean? Mistyping "write" as "right" makes me look sloppy and reflects poorly on the department. Fortunately, I've got until June to sort these issues out (and, who knows, I may be blogged out by then), but I can think of a few "don'ts" or "scrupulously avoids" already:
- scrupulously avoid airing departmental dirty laundry
- scrupulously avoid anything hateful (or anything likely to be interpreted as same)
- scrupulously avoid speaking as a department representative (unless authorized and encouraged to do so)
- scrupulously avoid sitting around blogging all day while one is supposed to be out hustling for one's colleagues
- scrupulously avoid b.u.i. and b.w.i. (blogging while intoxicated)
On the other hand, I could see how blogging (professors who also happen to be) chairs could be an asset to their departments. They might attract some positive attention to the department, perhaps by reflecting some of the intellectual or creative energy in the air. And, while there are things that chairs can never discuss or only discuss with other chairs, the position might offer a cool viewpoint on big-picture issues such as interdisciplinarity, funding grad students, and other weighty matters. Done properly, it could also provide a decent example of free and creative expression and the good-humored exchange of ideas. Still, depending on the audience, I worry about the "goofball" problem -- would you be more or less likely to attend grad school in a department in which a goofy chair pitches movies, discusses hookah pipes or repeats bad drummer jokes? OK, but what about taking a professorship in such a place? Awarding a multi-million dollar center or large grant? What kinds of posts would be really problematic to such audiences?