Questions about Anonymity

Over the past couple years, I have had growing concern about the use of anonymous posters here at the Harold Lounge and Don’s Desk. My concern initially began with some of the Realist posts over the past 18 months or so. But lately, with 12keystrokes’ critiques, the anonymous snipings against 12keystrokes and The Realist, and some anonymous snipings against Don at his blog, I believe it is time to raise the question publicly, and have a serious conversation about the utility and ethics of anonymous postings in our small community. After all, many of us will be working here for the next 10 or 20 years, together. We have a noble, if difficult goal, in the education of our students. It only makes sense to fight for the functionality and harmony of Harold Washington, and it seems foolish to let something flourish if it has a potentially harmful effect on our community.

So these are my questions:

Is the use of anonymity a good and useful thing at The Harold Lounge and Don’s Desk? 

When posting anonymously, what are you protecting? What are you sacrificing? Is it worth it? 

I am preparing a longer post on anonymous postings, but my stance is that anonymous postings, in general, are more harmful than helpful. The motivation for posting anonymously seems to have more to do with an excessive fear of retaliation, and to create a safe space from which bad or belligerent comments can be made without accountability. It is my belief that, in order to be a good citizen of the college (or any institution), it must be the goal of each person to contribute to the functionality and harmony of the place. Criticism, in general, is not contrary to this goal, obviously. But certain kinds of criticism are. My concern is that anonymous posters in general might hinder this goal. What is the motivation for anonymous posters? Do tenured faculty at a public institution have the duty to make criticisms with their name attached? Isn’t that what tenure is for? Isn’t that what justifies tenure?

(As a side note, none of this should be taken as a vote to remove the ability to post anonymously. Having the ability to post anonymously is a different question than whether it is a helpful or harmful practice.)

16 thoughts on “Questions about Anonymity

  1. What if one isn’t a tenured faculty member? What if one isn’t a faculty member at all. Our community is composed of staff, administrators, and students as well. I’m not a faculty member, but appreciate the ability to post in this digital space if I choose. I’d really like to see a bulletin board setup so that anyone can create a thread, but that’s not mutually exclusive to the blog.

    • That is a good question, for the obvious reason that tenured faculty have a form of protection that others do not. I think my concerns are applicable to everyone, tenured faculty and others. Anyone who contributes to a discussion will have an affect on the discussion. Perhaps there is an art to writing an effective and contributive anonymous post. Perhaps, even if we do decide that a tenured faculty member should avoid posting anonymously, others should be free of that moral obligation.

      • As a non-tenured faculty member, I know I’ve sometimes hesitated to attach my name to things that I’ve written, but I always have. A blog is informal enough that it feels weird to me to use my full name, but maybe the most anti-anonymity of those among us would argue that I’m straddling the line by omitting my last name. In any case, If I found myself not wanting people to know I wrote something, I may have decided that it wasn’t worth saying. I would not make a blanket statement outlawing anonymity or mandating full name disclosure since there are and have been good reasons for anonymous authorship in a variety of contexts.
        I would, however, ask whether my inclination to post anonymously is actually brave or just bully behavior. I know I can’t be the only person who has made (or, in my case, is trying to make) a life in academia and who was all too happy to leave junior high behind. I find it disappointing when I read sniping (good word, Kamran) comments from people who may be my peers that remind me of those traumatic years of middle school. I always appreciated one of the quotes that Rosie sometimes included in her emails: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone is engaged in some kind of battle.”
        I hate to sound cliche or naive, but I also hate watching us attack each other, particularly when the attacks take place behind a curtain of anonymity that renders the players flat silhouettes…caricatures who lack any shades of grey. I would much rather be associated with the supportive campus culture that I experience in the hallways–made up of three-dimensional people who take ownership of their behavior and use their ideas to improve our school and our students’ lives–than with the ill-will that occasionally bubbles over in the comments sections.

        • Kamran’s initial post referenced Don’s blog. As far as I’m concerned, he’s an interloper. Not concerned about our community at all. You should hear the disdain that he and other administrators express toward faculty. They view them as “difficult” employees who won’t fall in line. If they could strip us of tenure and fire those who question their infinite wisdom, they would in a heart beat. I’m not attacking Don on some personal level like he did to Realist. I’m merely critiquing his relationship with us. IMO he sees himself as above us (not just on some org chart, but also in intelligence). I’d rather have a president that views him or herself as one of us, not better than us.

          Is this type of anonymous post just a snipe or is there actually a conversation to be had about this? Do you suggest I express my feelings with my name attached to it? What might the repercussions of that be?

          • No, I would not characterize this as a snipe. And I don’t mean to suggest that we should all only say good things ever, just that we’re thoughtful about the things that we say and are not just lobbing stones from the keyboard. As I said, there are and have been good reasons for anonymous authorship.
            I have not witnessed the incidents that you describe with Don, but I certainly acknowledge your rights to describe what you have observed and the conclusions you have drawn from those interactions. I also acknowledge that when it comes to critiquing the behavior of one’s superiors or drawing others’ attention to them, that has historically been a value of anonymous authorship. If one is convinced that one’s honest opinions may not be spoken freely, either due to explicit or implicit threat, then I absolutely see the need for anonymity, and I think a conversation could be had, but I haven’t seen that conversation yet (and I may have missed it–I’m not on here all the time).
            As for what the repercussions of expressing your feelings with your name attached to it would be, the veterans of HWC and of teaching generally can probably answer that better than I can. I’m similarly wondering if my comments are going to earn me the wrath of colleagues that I respect. I hope not, but I suppose it’s possible…

          • Your post, anonymous, is just a snipe. Is there substance to the post? You would need to present some objectively verifiable evidence to move from snipe to worthy critique.

            I don’t approve of everything that Don has said or done. He believes that the salary of adjuncts ought to be determined by supply and demand. But I contend that under current conditions, that leads to something paramount to slave labor.

            However, the most important thing that a president can do is advocate for an increase and expand the number of full-time faculty. Don Laackman has been excellent at that goal: better than any president here since my employment has begun. It is the one power of the president that can have direct and actual benefit inside he classroom. The humanities department is as large now as it has ever been, and we nearly had a record number if it wasn’t for state-level budget cuts. In the chair meetings, Don has advocated for faculty to be reflective in their tenure portfolios and post-tenure reviews: this is beneficial. The whole-sale ridicule of Don, without regard to this boon, is one-sided and dismissive. Your post speaks only to your negative feelings toward Don, and nothing toward the legitimate objective flaws in his leadership. This matches other posts on Don’s blog. Your snipe and others like it do absolutely nothing to help Don or his critics improve his leadership. In my interactions with Don, he strikes me as having the proper intentions: a good and proper heart for his duties. If he has flaws, it is due to an oversight or ignorance on certain points. Our aim, then, is to edify, not disdain. So yes, I consider your post an example of sniping, and counter-productive toward the functionality and harmony of our community.

            Criticize Don! Please do it. That is your job. Criticize fellow faculty! That, too, is your job. I deserve criticism for a number of things! But criticize him and others when he and they merit criticism, and utilize objective, verifiable evidence. If you are an academic, then surely you know how to utilize objective evidence to make an argument! If you’re not an academic, you still need to use objective evidence if you wish to be taken seriously! That is what we are trying to teach our students, and for good reason! Otherwise, critics do more harm to the discourse than benefit to the community. Otherwise, I don’t know what you’re doing that is beneficial for our students!

          • “You should hear the disdain that he and other administrators express toward faculty.” So….you have been privy to these disdainful comments? Are you also admin, or staff? If so, then provide the evidence of these comments. Otherwise, your post does nothing but increase the faculty’s already heightened sense of paranoia. You know, everyone is not happy ALL the time, and one administrator’s grumbling does not automatically mean that they think all faculty are nincompoops. Nonetheless, they may want to be mindful of how others perceive their comments, and try to be more honorable. Ah! Whatever happened to honorable decorum? Sigh!

        • Hi, Erica.

          Oh, if only there were more like you! Upcoming posts speak directly to what you express here. Please know that 12keystrokes takes a firm stand that a harmonious workplace free of bullying/harassment is nothing less than a human rights issue.

          And what would you do if those basic human rights were denied to you? (That’s not a rhetorical question but one that you or anyone else should feel invited to answer.)

          • Are those rights being denied by one person? In that case, I think I would try to address it straightforwardly with those offending parties and with my/our supervisors. Are they being denied by an institutional issue? In that case, I would have conversations with other people I trusted to see if our experiences were similar, then work together to find a solution.
            If you feel like your human rights are being violated in our workplace, I’m sorry and horrified to hear that. I would like to help fix that. However, I don’t think that issue can be successfully addressed through pseudonymous, third-person references to oneself. A solution has to be able to connect back to the actual problem, not a masked one.
            I think that a lot of these anonymous/pseudonymous posts, while perhaps protecting their author, actually make people more afraid to speak, as Kathact points out, instead of encouraging constructive dialogue.
            I wanted to join Kamran in this conversation and break through some of my own fear and anxiety about making public declarations. I’m not suggesting that I have any answers, but I wanted to assert my ability to participate in a conversation, and I hope other previously-silent followers of the blog might do the same on occasion. If we don’t like the direction of the blog, we can always make positive action to try to offer an alternative.

          • Hi, Erica.

            Re: your March 9 comment at 12:07

            It is good to read that you find the violation of anyone’s human rights to be horrifying. Thank you for replying, but – and don’t take this wrong – there is a tone of disapproval (or disdain) to your replies.

            E: “Are those rights being denied by one person? In that case, I think I would try to address it straightforwardly with those offending parties and with my/our supervisors.”

            You assume that an offender will respond readily to reason. While not quite refreshingly naïve, this does reflect that you are enjoying your workplace, middle school receding in the rear-view mirror. That is good. Best wishes to you, and please continue to promote grown up behavior here at HWC.

            Interestingly, you also assume that there is a “next step” or mechanism in place at HWC. There isn’t. (Currently there is a “Healthy Workplace” bill pending in Springfield. Google it.)

            E: “However, I don’t think that issue can be successfully addressed through pseudonymous, third-person references to oneself. A solution has to be able to connect back to the actual problem, not a masked one. I think that a lot of these anonymous/pseudonymous posts, while perhaps protecting their author, actually make people more afraid to speak, as Kathact points out, instead of encouraging constructive dialogue.”

            Please rethink Kathact’s comments (or at least refine their application). Here: imagine yourself a target – day after day, week after week, year after year – for no reason other than another person (and, at times, a group) simply decided to make you one. This reality is called bullying/harassment. Then imagine that you remain rational and professional while cycling through all of the options available to you to address the problem.

            (BTW: If “Kathact” is, in fact, Kathact, then she receives no animosity here but a gentle ribbing: maybe “sticky” should be defined as “jumping the gun just a bit”? And use of the word “drama” should be limited to the stage and not applied to Realist’s disturbing behavior/posts. See https://haroldlounge.com/2013/03/07/the-read-from-this-side-of-suite-711-15/#comment-10862)

            RE: YOUR OTHER COMMENT. . . .

            E: “Your first couple of questions for Kamran strike me as equally relevant to you and your project, 12keystrokes. . . . ”

            As you said, you do not know all of the answers and have not been reading the Lounge very long. Realist has received a lot of applause and praise from a lot of people.

            12keystrokes began the project to address the lack of sophistication that people are bringing to this situation. The issue really isn’t about anonymity/pseudonymity (and how that might promote, say, moral hazard). 12keystrokes’ project is in synch with Kamran’s final paragraph. In fact, Kamran’s entire comment seems spot on. (See https://haroldlounge.com/2013/03/07/questions-about-anonymity/#comment-10882.)

            Erica – hope to see more of you on the Lounge AND in the hallways.

          • Hi 12keystrokes. Thanks for your response, and sorry for my own snipy comments, which you were right to point out, as well as my occasionally frustrating naivete. I appreciate any comments that are well-intended and that have substance, whether they come from you, Realist, or some other named, pseudonymous, or anonymous poster. I know I have a lot to learn, but I also appreciate being able to share my semi-formed thoughts if I work up the courage. I am slightly overwhelmed by how this thread has grown, so I feel like I need to withdraw for a bit and not get sucked under the wave. I appreciate everyone who has been willing to engage in dialogue with me, whatever your signature style.

  2. Hi, Kamran.

    You write that you’ve had concerns for several years that have intensified over the past 18 months and come to a head most recently.

    Reading your post prompts two immediate questions: why did you not give voice to your concerns sooner, and why give voice to them now? Another way of phrasing these questions is to ask where would you say you have stood these past several years in relation to the Lounge and to Realist?

    Discussions about anonymity/pseudonymity already took place on the Lounge. Here is one example: https://haroldlounge.com/2011/10/26/going-meta/.

    In the example above, Realist’s disregard for all concerns remains consistent. So, too, does Realist’s inability to engage with concerns/issues in any meaningful way. But what mostly comes through is Realist’s pleasure at being the center of attention.

    So it has always been.

    Other posters – some quite consistently over the years – have addressed issues of accountability and abuse on the Lounge (and/or HWC) but those persons met with much resistance. 12Keystrokes is the latest poster to experience that. Your post, however, creates a sliver of hope that things will turn out differently this time.

    Finally, you write the following: “My concern initially began with some of the Realist posts over the past 18 months or so. But lately, with 12keystrokes’ critiques, the anonymous snipings against 12keystrokes and The Realist, and some anonymous snipings against Don at his blog, I believe it is time to raise the question publicly. . . .”

    Your list of “reasons” for speaking out appears to situate the 12keystrokes critiques in the same category as Realist’s writings and the “anonymous” (i.e. “of mysterious and unknown origin”) snipings. Is that your intention?

    Finally, 12keystrokes’ project could be aided if you are able to provide a few links to the anonymous snipings directed at Realist, either recently or otherwise.

    That’s four questions total and none meant to be agonistic.

    • Your first couple of questions for Kamran strike me as equally relevant to you and your project, 12keystrokes:
      “Why did you not give voice to your concerns sooner, and why give voice to them now? Another way of phrasing these questions is to ask where would you say you have stood these past several years in relation to the Lounge and to Realist?”

      I imagine that a few timely, shorter responses to the Realist posts to which you objected might have been favorable to the lengthy sequence of posts that seem to have resulted from bottled up frustration. Sure, rhetorical analysis relies on a certain volume of text to generate context, but it seems like your main points could have been made in a more direct way when the conversations were first initiated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s