This conversation reminded me of the “set yourself on fire” post I wrote some time ago but now can’t find…sigh. Abject Learning blog points to the controversy surrounding a Yale academic post for which Professor Juan Cole was passed up on…perhaps because of views expressed on his blog. Juan Cole responds below:

The question is whether Web-log commentary helps or damages an academic’s career. It is a shameful question. Intellectuals should not be worrying about “careers,” the tenured among us least of all. Despite the First Amendment, which only really protects one from the government, most Americans who speak out can face sanctions from other institutions in society. Journalists are fired all the time for taking the wrong political stance. That is why most bloggers employed in the private sector are anonymous or started out trying to be so.

Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like to monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in the general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they might have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this, trying to help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I have been silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose in journals locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for the sake of a “career”? The role of the public intellectual is my career. And it is a hell of a career. I recommend it.

This is the point of view that I have slowly come to agree with. As a blogger, I honestly believe that I’ve crossed over into “deviant behavior.” Figuratively, I’m surrounded by people who are afraid to speak the truth aloud for fear of censure. When you put the skunk on the table, you find out that some folks don’t want to be around you….

The reason I’m an educator is to share ideas and information, to share the thinking process I go through with others. Often, that process fails me because I rush through it or don’t do sufficient research. But, I must note that even as I make more mistakes than the regular guy protecting his job, I also succeed and learn things that they can’t imagine. In fact, I learn things they only wish they could learn but just can’t understand how they’re not. This doesn’t make me better than them because it’s a matter of becoming increasingly aware of my surroundings, the ideas and frames I work out of. It is intoxicatingly liberating to explore these frames, dangerously so.

Yet, in opposition to that is Stephen Downes’ “Live honestly,” and if that is insufficient, let me hearken back….

An unexamined life is not worth living.

The life of a public intellectual–a blogger by any other name–is the career. The job pays our bills and the work that makes us employable is a by-product of who we are, not the other way around. I found this commentary among the 7 commenters at the Chronicle to be the most “on target” from my perspective:

Much ink and many pixels have been expended deploring the energy with which Cole’s candidacy was debated. But we should welcome such debate, and we should meet it with more. There is no threat to academic freedom in vigorous public discussion. There is only freedom itself.
Source: Erin O’Connor

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