Monday, October 13, 2008
Blogging Without Tenure
I know many of us blog without tenure, but is it really a good idea?
Some advise that blogging doesn't help. For one, it may not always look like it, but blogging takes time. And that time could be spent writing law review articles. That's the theory, at least, although in my experience it is nice to have a variety of projects of different lengths, media, etc.
But does it hurt? Any practicing lawyer has seen indiscreet email come back to haunt its author. Blogs are more overtly public, but they are also a place to float ideas that aren't entirely worked out.
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Having blogged for nearly three years now (!) -- one year as an untenured assistant professor in the U.S.; two years as a pre-tenured lecturer in New Zealand -- I can say that my decision to blog was the best professional decision I have ever made. The most obvious benefit has been exposure: far more people know who I am through my association with Opinio Juris than through my scholarship. That's not surprising, of course, because I write in a relatively specialized area (international criminal law) that many people even within international law don't follow closely. They will read a substantive blog post, but probably not an entire law review article.
That said, my guess is that far more people read my scholarship because of my blogging than would otherwise. First, I'm shameless and always mention when I've posted a new essay to SSRN. It's remarkable how quickly the essays are downloaded following a blog post. Second, I think the general exposure that comes with being part of a widely-read and well-respected (I hope!) blog leads at least a few people to read my scholarship who wouldn't otherwise.
It's true, of course, that blogging takes time -- time that could be used writing traditional articles. But I think that even here blogging has its benefits. First, it keeps me reading, because I have to feed the endless blogging machine. Second, and more important, it keeps me writing, even if it is only a few hundred words per day. I find it much easier to switch from a short blog post to writing an article than from killing Nazis on my Xbox 360 to writing an article. Third, I find blogging both generates ideas for articles and provides an opportunity to give them a trial run. My most recent contribution to an edited book, for example, began life as a blog post. The significant reader debate it generated convinced me to make the topic the basis for a full article.
Finally, two caveats. First, I am a member of an discipline-specific blog and, with the exception of the occasional snarky post directed at Palin or McCain, I only post about my areas of scholarly interest within that discipline. That maximizes the utility of my blogging. And second, I am always very aware when I blog that everything I write will be available via Google until the End of Days. That doesn't mean that I shy away from controversy; I like controversy. But it does mean that I am (usually) a little more moderate in my tone than I would be discussing an issue with a friend.
I hope this helps -- and doesn't seem too self-aggrandizing!
Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Oct 13, 2008 5:36:00 PM
My sense is that in American law schools, tenure rates are so high that it doesn't matter whether you blog or you don't.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 13, 2008 5:45:58 PM
Orin, Kevin, I wonder if you or others might share your thoughts about issues besides tenure. For example, you may be right that tenure at one's current institution is likely so long as one steadily surpasses the threshold for law review articles, but what do you think of whether it helps people lateral to other schools?
I know of a number of bloggers who have had good experience on the lateral market b/c of blogging and a strong record but it seems there are also some scholars who, notwithstanding strong publication and teaching records, might have irritated some readers at some schools sufficiently through their blogging to harm their chances, perhaps because they are "too conservative" or "too left-wing." That information wouldn't be as readily available if one just looked at one's scholarship. Any rules of thumb?
Posted by: anon | Oct 13, 2008 6:50:03 PM
I think your summary is just about as a good a rule of thumb as you can get: Stick to what you know, show judgment, and don't be a political hack.
Of course, I'm still at the same school where I started in 2001, so take my advice with a grain of salt. ;-)
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 13, 2008 6:55:17 PM
This is a useful summary of the "problem."
Posted by: dave hoffman | Oct 13, 2008 7:20:26 PM
Like Dave, I endorse Christine and Tung's article. My sense, in terms of lateral movement, is that blogging (good blogging, at least!) can be a significant advantage when it comes to lateral movement. Unlike the entry-level market, with its centralized information system, the lateral market is largely driven by name recognition -- a school needs someone in a particular area; the people at that school brainstorm names and ask their friends for suggestions. The question is, will your name come up during that process? I think the answer is far more likely to be "yes" if you are a prolific and respected blogger than if you are not.
That said, a blogging reputation is no substitute for scholarly production. You want your name recognition to lead lateral hiring committees to look at your published work and be impressed. If you haven't published, or if haven't done good scholarly work, no amount of name recognition will save you.
A caveat: it is difficult, if not impossible, to know how important blogging is to lateral committees. (I hope hiring chairs will weigh in.) I am moving in February from the University of Auckland to the University of Melbourne, which is exceptionally strong in international law. I don't know if my blogging at Opinio Juris had anything to do with Melbourne's interest in me. I'm confident, though, that it played at least some role.
Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Oct 13, 2008 7:43:17 PM
One other point. I think it's possible that being too openly partisan when one blogs could hurt you on the lateral market, particularly at those schools -- a Cardozo or George Mason -- whose faculties have a distinct political bent. That said, I'm not sure I would want to be on the faculty of a school that thought I was "too left-wing" (an oxymoron, in any case...) to teach there. What I love about my blog is that we have members from across the political spectrum. Law schools should be no less diverse -- and no less tolerant of diversity.
Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Oct 13, 2008 7:49:51 PM
Hurt & Yin's article on blogging without tenure.
For those who find SSRN as annoying as I do.
Posted by: Bored Associate/Discovery Monkey | Oct 14, 2008 10:10:22 AM