Last week was a bit surreal in terms of new in higher education; it started with the Colorado State job ad scandal and then moved to the Harvard misstep into the same pile. Both events gained visibility (and were ultimately remedied) because of the efforts of those academics on social media: one academic posts it in a blog, which is followed by another academic two tweets it and posts it to their facebook page, etc, etc, etc. This isn’t even to get into the numerous posts renouncing the ads, as well as analyzing the larger systematic issues higher education is facing, issues that we have had our heads in the sand about (feel free to share your favorite in the comments!). Someone passes the tip off to “mainstream” media and suddenly reporters (as opposed to bloggers) are contacting chairs to get official statements about what some are (rightfully) calling dodgy hiring practices.
Full disclosure: I was that someone. What’s the good of blogging over here if I can’t use the power of “official” media to expose these practices in a more official way. While I have no doubt that these would have crossed the desk (ok, screen) of the reporters and editors here, anyone who watched the final season of The Wire knows that sometimes, it’s too late.
It’s unfortunate though, but not all that surprising, that it took IHE asking questions (thanks, by the way) to get things changed. The first blogger who took note of what was going on at Colorado State asked the same questions, but some blogger poking around doesn’t seem to yet raise the red flags the same ways as “I’m a reporter from Legit Media Pubication.” But I think that administrations under-estimating the size and scope of the professoriate in social media of all kinds is to our advantage. Their efforts to either a) pass by without getting noticed or b) control the narrative seems to discount when and where academics do their connecting.
Certainly, many academics still disdain social media (such as Twitter and blogging) as a waste of time and ultimately unprofessional. And perhaps that attitude still primarily informs the internal narrative within the individual institutions. But, as Emory and CUNY recently found out, there is no such thing as a Friday afternoon news dump anymore (or in CUNY’s case, late Thursday evening, where the assumption it seems still is that no one on campus apparently works on Fridays). The thinking behind these “news dumps” is that everyone has already tuned out for the weekend (not to mention that most major news publications aren’t paying attention either). In other words, the news gets ignored, passed over, and forgotten about.
Here’s the thing about academics and Twitter, especially: weekends are when we come alive, especially in the evenings. Without the teaching, the administrative work, the emails, etc, etc, etc, we have time to think, to write, and to tweet. Some of the best conversations I have had on twitter about higher education (both more generally and specifically as it relates to my research) have come on Friday and Saturday nights. You released the news exactly at the right time if you don’t want the media to pay attention and exactly at the wrong time if you don’t want the professoriate to mobilize.
Over the weekend, I have seen organized Emory protests and blogposts in response all over my Twitter timeline, and Angus Johnson’s posts on CUNY (which ought to be commended) have been everywhere, too (including a number of old-school listservs!) and elicited any number of blog posts in response. All of these connected academics are available for comment on the record (and have left their own “on the record” comments in multiple places) while the administrators have probably been “off for the weekend.” The narrative, for better or for worse, has been set by the professoriate, and not by those who sought to originally control the message by releasing the information at a time where, traditionally, they could get away with it.
Think about that for a second. For an entire weekend, the only people talking about and commenting on the issues are those very people that they hoped wouldn’t notice. On Monday, there will already be forums organized on Emory campus. On Monday, CUNY should know that the AAUP already know what they are doing. On Monday, IHE was all over it.
On Saturday and Sunday, the professors were tweeting, sharing, writing, organizing.
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