So, there’s been more than a little drama about posts and authorship over the last six months while I’ve been mostly absented from the blog helm. For selfish and other reasons related to giving things enough wait time that they solve themselves (masterful inactivity one might call it), I tried to stay uninvolved for the most part. Alas, I am no longer uninvolved and opinions over the last six months have strengthened with opinion holders becoming much more vocal that “something must be done.” But what? And how? And why? Well, here’s my version of things:
Though I was still committed to staying out of things as much as possible, back in March I reached out to all of the other editors (all of whom are current, full-time faculty) by email asking them to identify:
D) Anything else.
I then went on to write:
My own view of things is as follows: For the last three years we have operated with no official policy except that all editors must be HWC faculty. Other than that, collegial courtesy has guided the posting. People could do what they want, but usually gave each others posts a one hour cushion (except if they went unnoticed in the scheduling queue prior to posting) and everyone had privilege to sticky posts to the top according to their judgment and allow 24-48 hours of sticky time before challenging or requesting change. Sticking posts to the top was typically reserved for time sensitive issues and posts that, in the opinion of the author deserved extra attention and discussion due to their potential impact on the HWC community. When this started there were a lot of regularly scheduled features, but those have dwindled until such time as someone wants to revive them and/or someone wants to start their own regular feature. Feel free. There have been no content guidelines or restrictions.
We have also gone without a commenting policy. In three years there has been one comment (other than spam) removed from view. The de facto commenting policy has been to allow any and all commentary. The comment referred to above was one that, per practice, was immediately challenged as unfounded, demeaning of its subject, and calumnious. Upon its being challenged, no discussion/defense for it was made. Upon its being downrated 10 times (to zero likes) it was hidden from view. This is as close to a policy as we’ve come. There are no content guidelines or restrictions provided for commenters. (By the way, this policy, like that for posters is driven by my philosophical commitments to Mill’s argument against censorship in On Liberty. I recognize the importance and power of Marcuse’s critique of the impact of the ideology of democratic tolerance on discussion, but I think it makes more sense to keep it in mind as a caveat than to abandon discussion altogether. If you’d like further elaboration on either, I’m happy to provide it.). I will not deny my own motivations either. #1) I didn’t want to be the content police due to time and power issues; #2) I truly want this to be a collaborative and so don’t want to be in the position of giving permission or stamps of approval or whatever.
The anything goes policy has been the basis for allowing anonymous posters. By necessity, I know who they are and can verify that they are faculty. I recognize that this puts me in a position of privilege relative to the rest of the editors. I don’t know what to do about that. Following Mill–and in the early developmental days of the blog–I empowered the Realist project. That project has evolved over the years, as has the blog. I have had multiple discussions with a few of the other editors on the topic and there have been a few discussions on the Lounge on the topic over the years, but to date there has not been a strong community challenge to the policy of allowing anonymous posters.
As a consequence of a different exchange, I invited 12keystrokes to write for the Lounge not knowing that that faculty member’s project would also be a pseudonymous/anonymous one (not that knowing would have changed anything–the precedent had been set). Personally, I would prefer it if everyone posted and commented under their real names, but I do not believe we should mandate for posting (lest we fall further, in the absence of faculty willing to give voice to radical/counter-conventional/potentially controversial ideas and critiques, into the narrow crevasse of “acceptable discussion” (i.e., the problem identified by Marcuse) and I definitely don’t think we should mandate self-identification for comments (thinking of adjuncts, staff, non-tenured, administrators, etc.).
I recognize, though, that I might be standing alone on those things, and so want to reopen the discussion in light of Kamran’s post and the previously stated concerns of a few editors (as well as my own longstanding misgivings).
Making matters worse is the fact that we have no policy for conducting these discussions or determining policy. The benefits and challenges of consensus gathering and democratic vote and autocratic rule are well known. I am open to either taking up or ignoring this meta-topic at the beginning at the end or throughout.
I received seven responses. (I have received permission from a few authors to share their responses. No one denied me permission, but if it wasn’t granted, I don’t want to publish their words.) A few of them were:
#1) I personally would like to see posters using their true identity rather than a pen name…On the other hand, I do like the freedom to be able to comment anonymously from time to time. What I would like to see is more posting. I want diversity. I want exciting topics; hot topics to be debated among colleagues. I want to see more of us sharing resources and sharing teaching/learning strategies…I personally do not like to use the Harold Lounge as a place to sling mud, especially at each other, but if it is a free space then I have to deal with the mud slinging I suppose. I do feel a bit shy to post things if I think a fellow poster is going to rip my grammar apart. On the other hand, this is a public forum and I should be open to critique. My vote is that we keep the policy as it currently stands, such as it is. I hope that everyone on this e-mail, myself included, will step-up their posting.
#2) More postings would be nice…I believe all the editors have done a decent job of managing their content. As [someone] stated, the mud slinging does not work for me either. If it comes with the territory, so be it. I think collegiality will win out in the long run if we make it our priority. My vote? Leave everything the way it is with no official policy.
#5) The use of anonymous posts is always questionable, and I believe it is deplorable for a protected class of academics–protected for the express purpose of speaking freely–to then hide behind an anonymous name. When one doesn’t have power and security, the situation changes. But our tenure demands something more of us, or else we betray the goals of tenure. When a tenured professor lacks the courage to write under one’s own name when writing something potentially controversial, it contributes to every argument that claims “professors don’t need or deserve tenure any longer.” …I believe anyone still ought to have the right and ability to post anonymously. Acting virtuously and acting within one’s rights are distinct things. Finally, and most importantly, I enthusiastically agree with [#1] that we need more on the Harold Lounge: more variety, and more posts that get back to the heart of teaching…The use of anonymous names on the Harold Lounge has been damaging to both the blog community, and the HWC faculty community as a whole.The use of anonymous names may be damaging to the HWC community as a whole.
The others included the suggestion that we develop an ethics policy for posting, one person who said s/he couldn’t answer due to grading work, one who was “torn” on anonymity, but agreed regarding quantity and variety of posts, and another who suggested everyone commit to more posting and that maybe I could find more editors.
From these responses, I drew the conclusion that there was no strong consensus for immediate action with respect to anonymous authorship, though there was a lot of ambivalence among the editors. Nonetheless, their diagnosis of the Lounge “problems” centered on the amount, type, and limited sourcing of content, especially in my absence. I settled on a laissez-faire path for the spring and summer at least. As the new academic year approached, however–specifically, while biking to DWFDW–I found in myself a growing conviction that the time had come to require any and all authors who post to the blog to use either their own names or be otherwise identified/identifiable. Comments, I believed, should continue to allow for anonymous and pseudonymous contributions.
You might wonder what led to the blooming of this idea in me.
Over the last six months two voices have come to dominate the blog. Both voices were those of anonymous and generally unknown (except by me and a few others) authors and both have projects that narrowed the scope of the Lounge function. (This site was originally launched as an unofficial project of Faculty Council when I was the secretary in order to: 1. Create a central location for information (for both efficient notification and long-term repository) that affects faculty; 2. Create a means for asynchronous discussion and consideration of ideas, proposals, initiatives, and controversies other than “reply all” email; 3. Facilitate professional development through the sharing of resources related to teaching, our disciplines, and our profession (i.e., higher education in general); and 4. Foster a sense of community and connectedness that is crucial to morale, institutional health, and so on. )
12Keystrokes’ project began with the assertion that as of Fall 2012, the Realist’s voice had become the dominant voice on the Lounge (a premise I disagreed with then and now, but that it was made and not disputed by anyone else suggests that 12Keystrokes may not be alone in perceiving things that way. I certainly cut down on my posting in the Fall of 2012, relative to past semesters, but numerically I still outposted Realist by a long ways. At any rate, by March of 2013, the Lounge was pretty much the Realist and 12Keystrokes show. Not exclusively, but mostly.
As the voices of the Realist and 12Keystrokes became more and more dominant through the spring and summer, questions (or criticisms) about the purpose and function of the blog became more prominent both on the site and in my private correspondence with colleagues on the subject, and I began to think that my return would not be enough to offset the turn that things had taken, a turn that (I believe) was manifested in the tone of posts and comments alike. I saw it as an ugly turn. So, on my bike ride, I started to think about what I could do and what, maybe, should be done, and I kept coming back to a common complaint that I heard put forth by critics of Realist for years now and also by critics of 12Keystrokes–namely, that it is not right (or good) to allow someone to post both as a faculty member and with a hidden identity. On Tuesday of DWFDW, I sent out another email to the editors, suggesting the new policy and asking for their feedback. In that, I wrote:
As for reasons, I could write pages, most likely, but I won’t bore you with all of that. In brief, I am persuaded by 12keystrokes’ argument that perhaps my own knowledge of the identity of the Realist has blinded me to some of the impact of the Realist’s oevre. I am also persuaded by Kamran’s (and 12Keystrokes) arguments that such public expression of opinions–political, philosophical, personal, and otherwise–as those that constitute the primary posts of a college faculty blog ought to have a degree of transparency that allows for, even encourages, discussion and contribution. Whether the author wants to hold respondents to the same criterion can be a personal preference, at least for now.
Furthermore, while I don’t have empirical evidence beyond anecdotal, I have consistently received feedback about the blog over the past 8 months in particular, expressing anxiety, disappointment, dislike, and a number of other negative words about the tone and function of the blog, especially with respect to the quality of information, the tone and direction of focus, and the tenor of the discussions that result. I agree with these assessments and, in truth, I’d rather shut the thing down and go back to all faculty email discussions about controversial topics than continue enabling a tool that turns our collective focus exclusively or even primarily inward. When I started at HWC, there were a number of circular firing squads already in existence. One aim of the blog was to allow communication for finding common ground and opportunities to (civilly) discuss and consider controversial or difficult topics. If it got away from that, I will take the blame for it. I do not, however, want to further codify either an in-crowd echo chamber or a gladiatorial arena.
There are certainly more reasons, including a few selfish ones (I simply don’t want the drama), but that will do for now. Still, I asked opinions and received back a collection of votes for the status quo, and so, even while I am now pretty strongly convinced of the value of the change I am proposing for author’s, I don’t want to do it by fiat.
I do want to do it, though. What say you, six months after the question was initially posed?
In response, I received three emails. I also had two discussions in person with other editors. One (the Realist) said, “Whatever you want to do is fine.” The other four were all enthusiastically in favor of the new policy. As of this writing, I have not heard from any others. That was enough for me.
Finally, I would like to express my thanks to the two authors affected by this change, particularly the Realist. Realist has been supportive of this project since before it began and often picked up my slack. Realist’s annual takeovers in the summer and over winter break and during midterm week provided me with desperately needed respites from my own compulsions and habits (and voice). I will always be grateful for the generosity, both of action and spirit, that Realist has shared with me throughout the last two and a half years. I have said it in person and I will say it again, but I should like it known publicly how deep and profound my gratitude is to the Realist for the support and contributions.
I am also grateful to 12Keystrokes for showing me a perspective that I did not and do not share, but certainly found thought-provoking and a project that, whatever else, will certainly have been a catalyst for the evolution of the Harold Lounge. Of course, I invite one or both to re-join us under their real names, with or without disclosure of their secret identities, and encourage them, if they’d like to continue blogging elsewhere pseudonymously or otherwise. As with all faculty blogs, I’ll happily post a link in the blogroll to Realist’s Cave or Camp Realist or whatever.
I once read that a “bureaucrat” is best defined as anyone who spends more than 50% of their work time on internal matters. That has always seemed right to me, and it’s always been my goal to make sure I never qualified. It is my hope that after this post and the activation of the new policy, this blog will become less bureaucratic and inward focused and more oriented toward serving the goals for which it was created. And I hope that all of you readers (or at least some of you) will help me make that happen, too. It won’t happen without your help.
Thanks, in advance.
UPDATED (8/23): To fix the paragraphs and one spelling error