Culture and Society,  Scholarship,  Writing

Trials and Tribulations

I managed to avoid commenting on the first pseudonymous Chronicle of Higher Education article by “Ivan Tribble,” “Bloggers Need Not Apply. Tribble’s piece included a less than professional description of the academic review process, one that didn’t reflect well on either the author or the school. I thought Tribble was, well, profoundly clueless. I noted that a number of others who are wiser, smarter, and better writers than I am said what needed to be said, so decided not to comment. I was more than somewhat amused to notice that a week later the Chronicle published an article urging academic book authors to promote themselves and their books with a blog.

When Tribble published an even dafter follow-up to his first appearance, “They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?” I only knew that the piece had been published because of a reference in Quod She by Dr. Virago, and comments from a few other bloggers. I noted that Tribble’s complacency and pompousness had devolved to a snide whine.

In the initial post, as Dr. Virago points out, Tribble complains that the bloggers interviewed for a recent job essentially provided too much information about their personal lives. He isolates three specific examples, including one engaging in misrepresentation, one that essentially suffers from “TMI,” Too Much Information or personal revealation, and one blogger he identifies as “Professor Turbo Geek,” who has an obvious interest in digital technology. Regarding the “Turbo Geek,” Tribble writes:

It’s one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can’t afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

I suppose I should be filled with umbrage; I certainly qualify as a Turbo Geek, albeit not a professor, but I’m more interested in Tribble’s scholarly cluelessness. Many schools are delighted to hire humanist scholars who know enough Perl to write text parsers, analysis tools, or concordances, scholars who routinely teach with technology, and know where to find a Yogh in Unicode and the best way to digitize a manuscript leaf under ultraviolet, and how to properly utilize online databases for bibliographic research.

The naivete of comments like this one, again from the first essay, made me realize I was dealing with someone truly clueless:

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.

As a job applicant interviewer and potential academic with “Turbo Geek” cred, I look at the situation differently. I’d have googled applicants before the interview, and any applicants the committee had reservations about would have been set aside in favor of more suitable prospects. That’s fairly common, and has been for at least five years. Frankly, when I apply for jobs, academic or geek, I’m doing a fair amount of googling myself regarding my prospective employer and colleagues. I check Nexus-Lexus, and various other proprietary data sources as well as the usual on and off-line bibliographic sources. I’m likely to talk to or e-mail people I know, in industry or the academy, to ask them about my prospective colleagues and employer. It’s not like background checks are new, after all. When I’m hiring, after the interview, I call the references and talk to them—often this is the point where you really learn about candidates, since much of the other data is carefully constructed by a candidate with specific rhetorical goals.

In his follow-up piece Tribble concludes:

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don’t “get it.” That’s right, I don’t. Many in the tenured generation don’t, and they’ll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

It’s true, Tribble doesn’t “get it,” but he’s fortunately part of a rapidly shrinking minority. Yes, people do write stupid things in blogs, and some people write inappropriate or unprofessional posts—and some are fired for it. Intellectually engaged schools and companies have blogging policies, and that helps enormously. It’s been my experience that the people who are truly unprofessional online (and I’m not convinced Tribble’s initial three example bloggers are) are likely to be unprofessional off-line as well. These issues are hardly exclusive to the ‘net; they happen in traditional publications, and coffee shops and living rooms too. Some people even write editorials delineating inappropriate hiring practices.