Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What to Advise Junior Profs About Blogging/SSRN?

Posted by Alan Childress

Nancy Levit of UMKC, on whose earlier work [on 'domesticating' women teachers in law schools] I previously posted, has just posted a new abstract and article on SSRN, called "Scholarship Advice for New Law Professors in the Electronic Age."  In it, she explores the rather cloudy mentoring situation of advising untenured colleagues about whether to dip their toes into blogging, how to use SSRN, and other techy issues that may cause political or lost-in-translation problems among the fuller faculty.   [Abstract after the jump below.]  I'd add what she acknowledges more diplomatically than I do:  that fuller faculty has some oldfart Luddites.  [BTW, how is it that there even is a  is there an]  They may look askance (or the nice ones, just skance) at any attempt to 'play' or 'waste time' on the internet (and may be right) -- and, especially, 410779_66811632 to claim some academic or scholarly cred for it.   What would you advise a junior colleague about such activities?  Even the stock "do it until it actually interferes with your real writing and class prep"--essentially classic advice from the Boy Scout Handbook--insufficiently accounts for the backlash that may occur even without proof of such interference with the paying job.  To her credit, Nancy does not stop at the Hallmark card lingo.

The article is out for submission and your consideration or even disagreement.  Because Nancy is apparently secure in herself, and obviously tenured in writing such a piece and asking the following before publishing it, she seriously would like to hear your views on the issue -- what is your advice to that junior prof? ...does it depend on factors I am not mentioning?  ...does it depend on how many others at the school already blog or push SSRN (and how they are liked for that fact among the fullers?)  She has provided her email link here (that is dangerous but we are here to serve) and/or you can post your comments on this site.  There was a much-reported discussion earlier this year at a Harvard Law conference on blogging and academia with an all-star cast and agenda, at which Randy Barnett made waves about the "incompatibility" of blogging and scholarship.  He got the ball rolling on that at January's AALS in DC, helpfully debated by Dan Solove and others at concurringopinions here and linked and highlighted by Paul Caron here.  Jeff tells me there was some nice follow-up about Larry Solum but I have not found it to link it here, yet.  {UPDATE:  Jeff gave me the link to Markel's summary, including Solum's AALS talk, on Prawfs here.}  For some other thoughts specific to blogging (Levit's is not), and one of the best titles of the year, see Christine Hurt's and Tung Yin's "Blogging While Untenured and Other Extreme Sports."  Meanwhile, please don't let Tulane's Tania Tetlow see any of this before she agrees to guestblog on our LPB.

I enjoyed Nancy Levit's advice and think it ought to be published even without the modifications she invites from readers.  (That of course is one of the advantages and dangers, especially to junior profs, of posting on SSRN before placing the piece--would you advise someone to do that, or worry they will endlessly massage the piece before moving onto the next one?  [not an issue with Levit]) One part of her article that I find less convincing is her marketing statement (my term) that the piece explains to senior colleagues what the brave new world is and translates it for them.  To be fair, it contains useful tips about citing blogs and using SSRN for long-established writers, and she does not say as such that it is an educational brochure for faculty skeptics.  But to the extent it is, I doubt the older and fartier ones will read it unless it is foisted on them, and I hope she is not suggesting that the junior person ought to be the one to hand the article to a Luddite on some kind of suicidal educational mission.  Better to stay in the Saigon Hilton playing karate with the mirror than to enter that jungle seeking to tame the old man.

The complete abstract is (and the article may be downloaded from SSRN):

The article suggests that the legal academy is in a time of transition between promotion and tenure rules based on traditional methods of publication and contemporary electronic and interdisciplinary possibilities for publication. While a number of articles contain recommendations for newer law professors about the process of scholarship, most of those articles are between five and twenty years old and do not address publishing in the age of blogs, expedited reviews, electronic submissions, and open-access databases.

The substance and length of what law professors write, the formats in which they do so, and the fora in which they publish are evolving. This article breaks new ground in offering advice for those who have recently joined the academy on how to comply with promotion and tenure guidelines while taking advantage of publishing opportunities in the electronic age.  Although it gives special emphasis to newer faculty and to issues raised by modern technology, the article is not limited to those sorts of issue.  Professors who have been writing for years may find some useful nuggets about citation practices regarding blogs, the impact of recent law review limits on article length, electronic methods of browsing journals and articles in other disciplines, access to government documents, and posting on open-access archives.

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