Monday, October 26, 2015

A question of academics in the "blogosphere"

Recently my university has been in the news for a very complicated problem that involves an unhappy university president, and faculty member, and the university chancellor.  (For those who do not hang around universities, the Chancellor in corporate language is sort of the Chairman of the Board meaning that the position has power, but not in the same way as the president or CEO).

Not to get into the weeds too far, the president was just new, brought in with lots of fanfare and promise, but then suddenly quit in less than a year.  The faculty member decided to speculate on why he quit in her blog using less than appropriate language and inference to which the Chancellor took offense.  Then the faculty member in less than sterling behavior whined that by calling her on the inappropriateness of her blog speculations, that the Chancellor had intruded on her "academic freedom", which in turn then stole all the oxygen from the real story (ie why did the president really quit) and turned it onto this "poor me victim" drivel.  [ You can probably tell where my personal sympathies lie and don't lie].  

To bring this sad and complex story to an end,  the whole mess was reviewed by a very august retired judge who gave an opinion that what a university academic writes in a blog constitutes protected thoughts and should be afforded the same academic freedom protections.

If you enjoy in getting into the weeds more (and why would you?) you can Google "UBC President Resigns".

But my Question is, does everyone believe that what a person writes in a personal blog is some how sacrosanct and rises to the level of protected speech?  

In the US, I suspect that many would say that all opinion is indeed sacrosanct, and should be considered as protected under the first amendment as "protected speech" .  I may be a horse's ass with thoughts appropriate, but as long as I don't threaten anybody, what is written in a blog should be accepted "free speech".  I can live with that.

But it seems to me that academic freedom implies something different.  It implies some some of intellectual effort, that is associated with the creation of new knowledge, new insights, and some sort of intellectual rigor.  If you want to use your blog as an alternate vehicle from the traditional peer review process to hasten dissemination, you can do that.  That doesn't mean that the audience is honor bound to accept it as truth, but if it has the dimensions of new knowledge and some degree of rigor, you probably can make the argument that this is your academic opinion, and while you may be criticized for it, no one can prevent you from writing.

But most blogs that represent solely opinion and little or no substance and nothing resembling structure, opinion or new knowledge, are something else.  Blogs are more often about the writer's desire to write, than about creating information for others (did someone say narcissistic?) My blog is my opinion, good, bad or indifferent, but I personally would not consider it as something particularly special. I have never considered adding my blog entries into my curriculum vitae (resume), but I will include some as references in literature if I am trying to make a point.

But now that an august judge has decided that all these writings are indeed sacrosanct and protected, maybe I will have to consider them with more respect.

Horrors !!!

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