A week ago Christopher Rollston wrote a blogpost titled “From Washington to Jerusalem: Personal Reflections on a Year to Remember” wherein he recounted the series of events that led to his forced resignation from Emmanuel College in 2012. Rollston’s troubles began with a blogpost on the Huffington Post where he pointed out how women are marginalized in Scripture. Although he was a tenured professor, who was both well-like and well-respected by the students and most of his colleagues, he found himself on the wrong side of angry donors who disliked his view of the Bible, and as we all know, even in the Church, money makes the world go round.
Whereas there had been an epidemic among Evangelical institutions of higher learning resulting in the controversial dismissals of people like Peter Enns, Anthony Le Donne, and Michael Pahl for things they had written in books the story of Rollston’s trials and tribulations began with blogging. It may be just me, but it feels a bit more gut-wrenching to have your career upended by a short blog post than a published book. Why am I mentioning this story? Well, I think the relevant take-away point for my purposes is this: if a tenured professor can have both life and career temporarily derailed because of a blog post you better believe a student’s can as well.
A few weeks ago I asked people to contact me if they as students or graduates seeking employment had found that their blog had become more of a hinderance to their success than an asset (see Burnt by Blogging?). Several people contacted me and their stories (which I will not be sharing here, but which I will be including in my paper in a skeletal form that protects their anonymity) added to my conviction that blogging has the potential to up-end or significantly complicate career trajectories. Even more disconcerting is the reality that most people do not know that their blog has prevented them from being considered for this scholarship or that job opening in the religious studies department because no one tells them that their blog was a factor.
It has been said, jokingly, that people of my generation (I am thirty-one years old) will never be able to run for the presidency because of social media. It will be far too easy to dig up dirt on us. Our whole lives have been put on display and (ironically, lest digital luddites have reason to boast) those who have no social media presence are even more suspect—what are they hiding that keeps them off of Facebook?! This is true of many people who want to be doctoral students or who want to have a job in anything related to biblical, religious, or theological studies.
As I have learned as a blogger it is almost impossible to avoid writing something that will offend someone. It may be that you espouse a view on a matter that others reject, or you may get into a “debate” in the comments section that can be perceived as somewhere between uncomfortable and ugly. Inevitably, someone will come across your blog and you will be judged by your online persona. In a recent email correspondence with Marc Cortez of Wheaton College (formerly my Th.M. advisor at Western Seminary and a mentor and friend now) he shared this insight (shared with permission):
…many academics, and particularly those in academic administration do not understand blogs. As you know, blogs are their own genre and need to be read/interpreted in the right way. People who spend most of their time with academic journals come to blogs with the wrong set of interpretive criteria and walk away with the wrong conclusions. That potentially means that you’re putting up a lot of material with your name on it that is likely to be misread by the people who control your future.
Then he went on to say that many people don’t understand the “exploratory” element of blogs. That is why this blog has the following disclaimer on the side:
I use my blog to “think aloud,” to have conversations with people interested in the same subjects that interest me. I don’t think I’ve ever blogged a personal credo of any sort and if someone cared to do the research it would be quite apparent that many of the things I write may not reflect my opinion several weeks from now! If the genre of blogging is not taken into consideration than blog posts will be misunderstood. For the most part, blogs should be understood as a written form of a classroom discussion, not as a position paper, not as a journal article, not as a proposal for publication, not as the answer to application questions. It is a place for discussion. Sadly, many people do not know this and their unfamiliarity with the genre of the blog may result in their misunderstanding of what you’ve written.
There are many ways that a blog can ruin your public reputation. I’ve touched on some aspects related to academia and being misunderstood, but it is altogether possible that you might just have a bad day. What you write on your blog becomes a record of that day and if your emotions get the best of you it may be that long after you forgot about what you wrote someone who wants to know more about you comes across it. This is frustrating because in essence you’ve made an official statement without ever being asked a question. An employee or admissions committee knows “your position” on a doctrinal or social issue and they never had to email you, phone you, or ask you in a face-to-face interview. Sadly, what you wrote in 2009 in the heat of the moment may not reflect your current views, but that doesn’t matter, because the genre of blogging is easily misunderstood. If you choose to continue blogging, be careful. You never know how what you say today on your blog may impact you tomorrow.
In my next post I will talk more about offending potential educators and/or employers.
See also: Introduction
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, and even slower to blog, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires, and blogging? well, it just soils your reputation.
— James, the disciple, to other perpetual eternal students
I have a feeling that James may have written something like that if he were alive today!
Great post, Brian. Looking forward to hearing the other 4 reasons. I blog (as a student) because I see it as a learning experience (I wish more saw blogging this way — we might have less fights on the internet if people were more open to conversation) and a way to practice writing and communicating clearly… but I recognize that there is the risk that anything I say can be held against me in the future. But no pain, no gain, right? 🙂
Yes, but could James have tweeted, posted to fb, or blogged what he’d written? 🙂
In the Introduction post I mentioned that this paper and this blog series are sort of hypocritical of me. I have no reputation as an academic or scholar (and if I do, it is the generosity of the person saying it, not something I’ve earned), but I do have a reputation because of this blog. I don’t know that it is a good reputation, but it is a reputation! So, obviously, I support the general idea that students should be free to blog. That said, I’m a realist, and I know that many people have goals that may not be reached if they dabble in blogging, even if we know blogging is not a bad thing. I see it as a part of my learning experience as well. Sadly, some in the guild do not see it that way, and those people may be reading people’s applications to doctoral programs or for jobs! But I’m with you: I’d rather be myself than play the game of walking a tight rope. We’ll see how that plays out!
Good question! I imagine he’d write a guest post for someone else’s blog then hope others shared it on FB and Twitter.
@Brian and Jessica:
Yep. I share similar sentiments as to the dangers and purposes (or rather hopes) of blogging. And Brian, I like how you put that in your last comment: “I’d rather be myself than play the game of walking a tight rope.”
I think when I used to think I might teach or remain in “academia” I would be more scared of blogging, but now as I’m realizing there’s a ton of more educated and dedicated folks than myself out there that have similar interests and goals, I’m contenting myself with studying and exploring with others on the side.
Biblical studies are still a passion, but I’m just not gonna try and get my daily bread from it anymore. That said, blogging’s not as scary as I don’t plan on being scrutinized by a panel for entry into some institution of higher learning.
I only wish I could have face-to-face interactions with others who share similar interests instead of those provided by keyboards. But alas, not many in my city get excited about talking dead languages, ancient culture, and linguistics. Maybe this is where google-hangout comes in? 😛
There are plenty of things that one could do on a blog that *wouldn’t* soil one’s reputation. One usually soils one’s reputation (a) by saying things that one believes but doesn’t want prospective employers to know that one believes or (b) by saying things that one doesn’t believe but which are handy for the purpose of sensationalism or immature antagonism.
Any Christian employer that one would want to work for isn’t going to find it objectionable if a potential candidate blogs about biblical studies or theology in a way that is mature and charitable. Unless you’re being duplicitous, they shouldn’t be able to find much discrepancy between what you write on their doctrinal questionnaires and your personal blog.
The only way I’d find a potential person’s blog objectionable is if it betrayed the fact that they were bitter, cynical, or antagonistic.
I would also challenge the idea that blogs are for “thinking aloud”. Talking is thinking aloud. If you want to explore ideas and bear only the most minimal amount of responsibility for them, I would suggest meeting some friends at a coffee shop or keeping a personal theological journal. If it’s just “thinking aloud” then why does one have to do it on the internet? It doesn’t compute.
If someone doesn’t have ambitions to move “up the letter” of academia I think blogging as a student is a great idea. Blogging itself is a wonderful way to process what you are learning. It is the politics of things that has to worry people. If the politics of academia has no power over someone, then blog away! But there are many who will someday put their futures in the hands of others, others who may not understand blogging, so this series is more of a warning to them that to students in general.
While it could be argued that someone like myself (who would still like my education to feed directly into my vocation someday) should be wiser and not blog at all, I have found that blogging has brought me more opportunities and it hasn’t taken away from my unique giftedness. I don’t see myself as being the next great research professor at Duke University—not a chance!—but I may be the right person for a different setting. We’ll see!
Since I moved to San Antonio blogging has been my gateway to conversations I wouldn’t have had otherwise. My Church community is small and there is maybe one person there interested in the things that interest me. Finally, I was invited to tutor a small group in Greek, but we only get together for about an hour and a half each week. Google Hangout may be a good idea. I’ve only done it once though.
Agreed, there are things that one can say that may even enhance one’s reputation. Also, it depends on the people reading your blog. I know of people who have gotten jobs, in part, because they were perceived as forward thinking educators who use new technology and methods as displayed by their blog. But I’ve heard stories that remind you that blogging can be seen as negative and it can cost you, even if it is something as small as the person reviewing your job application preferring that you use your writing time to work on academic publications rather than silly o’blogging!
In some sense I agree that blogging isn’t quite the same as thinking aloud to one’s self or with a close group of friends. That said, as I noted in my comment to @KL above, sometimes your in a place where you don’t have a close group of friends. Since I moved to San Antonio, TX, it has taken a while to find people with similar interest. Also, I hate having idea trapped in my head without feedback, so a journal wouldn’t suffice for someone like me.
Reblogged this on BRHP – Between a Rock and a Hard Place and commented:
It should be rather “5 Reasons students and faculty shouldn’t blog”
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