A manifesto for blogging professors

Iv’e been looking for a manifesto for blogging professors.  Kevin Zelnio has come through with a new post on his EvoEcoLab site titled The message reigns over the medium.  It is long-form blogging at it’s best.  And it isn’t clear to me where exactly Kevin learned to be such a great writer (when he was a cook? A gel jockey? An audio engineer and musician?), but his skills really shines in this piece. It is a wide-ranging essay about blogging and other forms of online outreach (why we do it, how it should be done, etc.), but the section that really caught my eye was titled Who watches the watchman? – the blogger manifesto! – excerpted below. (read the full piece here)

Sometimes, the pressure to perform and interact can be too much and scientists must choose to to disengage or scale back in order to do their “day job”. Its a very tough challenge in an already demanding arena. When online outreach is undervalued by our colleagues and administration, it is often sacrificed at the altar of status quo. Yet, employees of many public universities and government institutions are mandated by their mission statements to engage with the communities.

Every institution has a mission statement or vision, have you ever read yours? These might seem like hollow words, bureaucratic-speak, but these are guiding principles of institutions and as an employee you are mandated to operate within them. This potentially becomes a powerful tool to exploit to online outreach skeptics.

But there is what appears to be a lack of oversight on the administrators. Who is watching the watchmen? The admins have made it clear that a certain bottom line and prestige are the favored metrics, many times at the expense of their own mission.

Should academic institutions support initiatives that drain resources? If not, then they need to strike out public engagement from their mission statement. Don’t say you are about outreach when you penalize those whose wish it is to uphold this often lauded, yet frequently disregarded or poorly done, principle as a part of their way of doing science. There is a crushing hypocrisy behind a university that purports to be a public resource while not making these actions a priority. But the watchers of the academic watchmen have failed and succumbed to bureaucratic, “profit-driven” style of management. That is, the faculty and staff of academic institutions have failed to keep their institutions on point.

I recently turned in my promotion package (for promotion to full professor) which included a CV, a research statement and a teaching statement.  I listed my “service” to the university and the discipline on my CV, but there was no request for any information on my outreach activities!  Nothing.  Incredible, isn’t it?!  I did include a summary of my outreach anyway, but I have no idea if any of the various committees that evaluated me even saw it.  I should have included UNC’s mission statement as a justification for how I spend at least 30% of my time:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, serves North Carolina, the United States, and the world through teaching, research, and public service. We embrace an unwavering commitment to excellence as one of the world’s great research universities.

Our mission is to serve as a center for research, scholarship, and creativity and to teach a diverse community of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to become the next generation of leaders. Through the efforts of our exceptional faculty and staff, and with generous support from North Carolina’s citizens, we invest our knowledge and resources to enhance access to learning and to foster the success and prosperity of each rising generation. We also extend knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the State.

With lux, libertas—light and liberty—as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.

This is a great mission statement, but like other institutions, Carolina does not really evaluate or reward the contributions of it’s faculty and staff towards meeting these broad social goals.

One thing in Kevin’s piece made me laugh and reflects the core of the problem:

And what about those who still do not use social media – the elderly, younger children, perhaps the poor?

Uhhh.  How about 90% of scientists who also don’t!  (or are they included in the “poor” classification?).  And that WAG includes facebook.  Even fewer blog or read blogs and almost nobody in academia older than 30 uses twitter.  Therein lies the problem – academia doesn’t value online outreach in large part because so few academics do it.







3 responses to “A manifesto for blogging professors”

  1. This strikes at the core of the issue. Science needs to move at the speed of conversation, a conversation that is happening right now, with or without scientists.
    Congrats on your success at Sea Monster! And a very happy New Year to all Monster bloggers.

  2. What puzzles me the most about these institutions, especially academia, is that they hide behind these mission statements, when these social agendas really ARE the secret to success. Then, when confronted by a real social opportunity, any little (perceived) risk by the bureaucracy negates the scientific merit of the social endeavor…

    Why don’t the bureaucrats understand that anything which makes a real impact on society, ie cultural change, eventually becomes the profitable business venture of tomorrow. Maintaining the status quo is simply not profitable…

    “Make society and better place and rich as a side effect”. Shouldn’t this be the REAL mission statement?

  3. Hurrah Kevin!

    similarly at UGA: my efforts at talking marine conservation to local schoolchildren, some vague blogging from my website, etc. are never evaluated in the P&T process.

    Zelnio for president.

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