Sunday, 8 April 2007

The president of APSA talks blogs

Robert Axelrod has belatedly discovered the blogs, and he’s missing the forest for the trees. Quoth our esteemed leader:

In discussions with APSA colleagues, I have learned that a number of private web sites and blogs have emerged recently that are widely used by political scientists, particularly graduate students, to discuss the academic job market. In their best form, such sites afford a new vehicle for the “grapevine” discussions that have always accompanied the academic labor market. However, I have also been shown anonymous postings on these lists making racist, sexist, and homophobic attacks on political scientists. The context makes clear this language is coming from within our discipline. There is little we can do to respond directly to these anonymous postings. We can speak out however. I urge you to stay attentive in the departmental communities you lead to gauge whether there are incivilities in the exchanges among your students and colleagues. Where you hear evidence of them, directly or indirectly, confront this behavior in whatever ways you consider appropriate and best. I truly believe these events are infrequent and at the fringe of our community. But the integrity of our professional exchange is the bedrock of our community. I hope you’ll agree with me it is our obligation as leaders of the discipline to sustain the respectful and civil treatment of colleagues.

Since Bob’s late to the party, I’ve had my response prepared for nine months:

In terms of wider disciplinary conversations in the blogosphere, I think the truth of the matter is that there are some serious grievances about the discipline among political scientists that simply will not be aired in non-anonymous public fora. That inevitably means there is going to be some nastiness, as those with private agendas use anonymity to attack others. I am unsure what the proper balance is, but I do know that the same themes raised at the American/Comparative jobs blog are the subject of whispers in the hallways of conferences and other gatherings.

The bottom line, I think is that if we are going to have more “openness” and “reform” in political science, we are going to need some brutal honesty about issues beyond methodological pluralism in the APSR—things like overproduction of PhDs, hiring practices (including the fundamentally broken hiring process), the dominance of doctoral-granting departments on the boards of the APSA, journals, and regional associations, differing standards for what is considered “quality” scholarship among subfields, and more. And I think that brutal honesty is going to need people who are willing to speak up about these issues non-anonymously without the protection (not from outside interference as originally intended, but from our own colleagues) of tenure. Personally, I don’t see that happening any time soon, but I would love to see someone prove me wrong.

Except for the overuse of scare quotes, I think it still basically applies today. Anyone who believes that “racist, sexist, and homophobic” attacks are solely motivated by a lack of civility—rather than being based on (quite likely falsely-held) beliefs about widespread non-merit-based decision-making in hiring, tenure, and promotion at most institutions and within APSA itself—is quite simply dangerously naïve.