So academic blogger extraordinaire Daniel Drezner was denied tenure at the University of Chicago last week. This was quite a surprise to Drezner's readers (as, he admits, it was to him). I am far from an expert in Drezner's fields of expertise, but I share the sentiment expressed by many of his commenters that I expect him to land on his feet.
An obvious question is what, if any, impact Drezner's blogging had on his tenure vote. From the launch of his blog, Drezner openly acknowledged the risks of blogging for an untenured academic. Senior colleagues may object to the content of blog posts on political grounds, or due to blogs' non-academic tone and content. Time spent blogging may come at the expense of one's academic work -- or it may just appear that way to one's colleagues (particularly those who may be less prominent or less productive). I've often heard academics disparage non-academic writing in terms that suggest it could be a negative in the tenure process, irrespective of the quality of academic work under review. This is one of the reasons I've blogged under a pseudonym -- and will at least until my own tenure vote -- as I want my file, and the work therein, judged on the merits. In my view, that I spend some of my free time blogging is no more relevant to the process than a colleagues' decision to spend his or her time attending theater, performing in dance recitals, or raising children, but there is no guarantee that one's colleagues will agree. Given the stakes involved -- and I suspect they are greater for those lower down the food chain than the University of Chicago -- I decided it was not worth the risk.
As for Drezner, I am happy to report that he has few regrets about his blog.
The very first words I wrote on this blog were: "I shouldn't be doing this. I'll be going up for tenure soon." This is a theme that I’ve touched on several times since then. The point is, I can’t say I didn’t go into this with my eyes open.As one of his many fans, I hope this means he will keep on blogging, even if not from the Windy City.
That said, if one assumes that the opportunity cost of blogging (e.g., better or more scholarship) was the difference between tenure and no tenure – an unclear assertion at best – then it’s a tough call. From a strict cost-benefit analysis, one could argue that the doors that blogging opened could have been deferred for a few years in return for the annuity of a tenured position at Chicago. That said, if I did things only for the money, I never would have entered the academy in the first place. And I’ve enjoyed the psychic rewards of blogging way too much to regret my choice.