Wednesday, March 01, 2006

You're blogging? You're fired!

Is blogging a fire able offense? It seems to be an epidemic in the academic world right now, one I had heard about but not particularly taken an interest in until I came upon an article about the Phantom Professor, an adjunct fired from Southern Methodist University for her no-holds barred diatribes about and against her over privileged students and the frustrating feudal system that is the Ivory Tower of academia. More searching found even more professors and even administrators fired for what they said on their blogs, written and published outside of class.

Now what do I think of this? Am I worried about my blog? To answer the second question, which is much less complicated, no. I write about my musing and knitting to friends and family back home to keep them up to date on my life so far away. I have yet to write about school or students or administrators, so I doubt anyone would take offense at my knitting trials and tribulations. But that is really not the point. My blog, is in no way connected to my job, they neither pay for the space I use, the time in which I write nor the computer that I use to write with. And yet is my reluctance to write about my students that will ultimately save me from any problems. Because I never write about my classes, my students or the administration I am not likely to see any trouble. But what if one day I get all riled up, which is a fair worry, and set out my frustration in my blog? It is quite possible, when I get all kinds of irritated I usually find an outward expression, and with the lack of the grad student support group, which always convened at the pub, my need at expression could take a dangerous route. And it is dangerous because while I could contest anything that would happen to me, my adjunct status does not hold any type of job security.

But this is not a problem that I foresee. Why? Because I would not partake in the kind of blogging that gets people fire. The Phantom professor described her students most intimate secrets and problems, getting her information from office hours and emails which she cut and pasted with relish. I would be hard pressed to do this. As teacher we are in a very strange position of counselor and therapist. Students tell me and email me things that even I don’t want to know. They show me medical printouts, bring me Mass cards and tell me about their emotional breakdowns and learning disabilities. I know way too much about my students, who, I would argue, tell me these things with an understanding that they are private. I respect that privacy too much to send it off into cyber space. Have I ever gotten together with collogues and over a few pints vented about students? Yes. But using the internet as your far back booth of the pub is something altogether different.

Now I will admit that I went to the Phantom Professors blog and read it, and laughed and enjoyed her barbed comments on the Ivory tower. What she discusses is relevant and real. But the way in which she delights in deconstructing her students and their behavior seems, well, mean. It smacks of a vindictiveness that is not the clever observation of one adjunct, over worked and underpaid. Somehow it seems like she is bitterly jealous of her students, their opportunities and their youth. I have had students who were given all and never appreciated it, and occasionally I wish that I had a daddy who paid for my education so that I wasn’t looking at 30 years of student loans, but who wouldn’t. The fact of the matter is that while I think Phantom Prof is someone who I would like to kibitz with over a cocktail, she might not be someone that I would like to send email to. Did I think that she should have been fired for her musing? No, what someone does on their own time can not be controlled by their place of employment. Do I think that what she did sometimes was ethically questionable? You betcha. As an academic the world is filled with gray areas that aren’t necessarily forbidden, but, I would argue, ethical landmines. This is the same way I feel about professors dating their students, while it is not usually outlawed, it shows some questionable judgment, even when that students is no your student anymore. That power relationship is sticky, and should no be exploited. This is the same way that I feel about the Phantom Prof. While I don’t think that she should have been fired, I do think that some of her decisions were questionable, and they make me uncomfortable in the same way that a prof standing at the buffet table of a party with their undergrad girlfriend would.

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