August 6, 2007

"The 'Lesser Perfesser' makes a case for strong opinions and instant chatter."

Here's a little piece on law blogging I wrote for The Legal Times, which I see is linkable as republished in The Texas Lawyer. I didn't write the above-quoted headline, but the term "Lesser Perfesser" does come up in the article. I talk about getting called crazy, and that makes me want to point out this discussion in the comments on today's first post, which links to my colleague's blog. A commenter called Teune writes:
[The linked blog] has caught my eye on more than one occasion too. The photos are quite nice. I worry about this kind of pseudo-intimate blogging however. For one, it gives the distinct impression that she is never at her job, or that she is employed by the taxpayers of Wisconsin to travel Europe, sampling the wares of every "quaint" cafe and market in existence. (Presumably, this is incorrect? Ann would know.) All it would take is the "right" Wisconsin legislator getting wind of this. It's scary.
I respond:
She works really hard, in fact. A really lazy professor would do anything but this. Think about the motivations.

I mean, what if I wrote one post a day and it was just about something I saw on TV. You might think: Hey, that lawprof just spends the whole day watching TV. But obviously, I could accomplish that feat of blogging in less than an hour a day -- in a lot less time than other people are spending just watching TV inertly.

I know blogging exaggerates how things look. So, if I hold a glass of wine in a photo -- I'm seen as a drunk! Yet, if you think about it, you'd realize that if I were actually a drunk, I would use a different picture.

And if I indulge in an offbeat locution, people call me insane. But if I were really afraid I might be insane, I'd take care to write conventional sentences that spelled out one thing after another with conspicuous logic.
Teune again:
That was my point. I like the blog and don't know the author, but academic blogs in this mode sort of make me queasy about their effects on those who aren't enamored with our hallowed university. Blogging about what you watch on tv seems a different animal than blogging about something that might just provoke resentment: "Wait, I'm toiling away through the dark WI winter as the State Rep. from Cheeseboro (R) and this person is off in the south of France...again...and in the middle of the term?!?!" Again, makes me a bit queasy.


ricpic said...

And what's wrong with a whacked out pampered globe trotting drunk, I'd like to know? Keep on truckin'.

vet66 said...

Apparently multi-tasking is not one of these critics strong points. Would your time be better served hanging around the water cooler in the teachers lounge?

I doubt it!

These folks have precious little sense of humor and about as much creativity. It must be difficult worrying so much about bureaucrats.

Teune said...

Wow, I get a shout out from Ann A! You've made my day. Just to retrace - before shutting up about this forever - I was responding to your post in which you say you like blogging that seems intimate (but isn't). I responded by detailing my own neuroses about this kind of blogging. I think there is a sense in which, on non-anony blogs (I blog anony), we necessarily reflect on our institutions and there are LOTS of people out there who either aren't sophisticated enough to realize that they aren't seeing the entire picture through the "blinds," or, like the Hon. Rep. from Cheeseboro, are simply inclined to act in bad faith.

Yes, Vet66, I worry about bureaucrats, probably too much, but, I hope you see the point of my hand-wringing.

Methadras said...

I suppose the notion that snapshots of time are perceived as reality these days. Oh what a world we live in when taking pictures and posting them on blogs doing everything but your job is scrutinized as loafing and being a layabout at the taxpayers expense.

I'm just waiting for someone to throw in a gratuitous mention of Ward Churchill in here.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of long foreign vacations, how much time would someone have to be away in Ulaan Goom in order to come back unaware that professors have a cushy job?

froggyprager said...

Thank you for sharing that article about your thoughts on blogging. If you have not gotten it already, I do think that there could be criticism of you and other prof bloggers because it gives the appearance that you are not doing your job and you are spending your time taking photos of flowers, etc. We do need to be worried about the State Rep. from Cheeseboro and their perceptions about such things.

I don't think that criticism would be founded for several reasons however. First is that the line between scholarship and blogging for you and others is not clear. For you, time spent posting about and reading comments about legal issues is valid professor work, even if it is not published in a scholarly journal.

Also, you probably may blog about pop culture at 10:00 am and prepare for class at 9:00 pm.

Also and more importantly many professors probably spend lots of time doing things that critics/ legislators would find troublesome but most do not do so in a public way. A geology professor could spend days reading Harry Potter or drinking martinis while he is away at a conference but no one would know.

keep on blogging and I will keep reading.

froggyprager said...

I do have a related question, have you ever been asked/ answered the question- how much time to you spend blogging about non-law related topics a day and looking on line at non-law realted topics?

Joan said...

Nina's blog is one of my favorites. Ann and Nina "bookend" my blog-crawls each day -- I start with Ann and end with Nina, and not just because that's where they fall on my blogroll.

Why would you assume, because a female law professor travels a lot, or blogs a lot, or both, that she is somehow not doing her job? Nina doesn't take extended trips during term -- but there are such things as spring break and long weekends, you know. And I'm sure both Ann and Nina can tell you that preparing to teach a class you've taught many times before requires much less of an investment than teaching a new one, for which you have to develop the syllabus, track down cases, etc.

It's insulting to ask someone how much time they spend blogging or reading on a particular subject, as if a certain amount of time is owed to their employer. Does your boss tell you what to read and how much to write? I would hope not! How generous of you to declare any time reading/blogging legal subjects "valid", that's good to know. Ann and Nina may be employed by Wisconsin, but as far as I know that doesn't make them the property of the state. Slavery has been illegal for quite some time now.

Ann Althouse said...

Froggyprager: No one here at the law school asks me that (though outsiders often do). It seems like it's really an interesting question, but it's not an appropriate thing for colleagues to concern themselves about any more than the number of hours a day I spend with my friends and family or sleeping or watching TV. I'm entitled to my personal time just like anyone else. The fact that the results of this use of my time show up in public doesn't change that.

Actually, here at the law school, people understand the value of having a high traffic blog and they can see that writing on a variety of topics is key to the popularity of this blog. When I write about law I reach a lot of people. So the non-law material is related to the law material.

Small talk in the hallways and digressing into pop culture in the classroom are not inappropriate. Most of my blogging is done early in the morning or in the evening, but it's not seen as wrong to blog during the day, just as it's not wrong to take a coffee break.

froggyprager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dick said...


Actually since your boss is paying you for your time, then a certain amount of time IS owed to your boss. Your time is what you are being paid for.

Joan said...

Actually since your boss is paying you for your time, then a certain amount of time IS owed to your boss. Your time is what you are being paid for.

In some cases, yes. In many, many cases, no. For example, when I'm subbing at my kids' school, I'm paid to be there from first bell through the last: I'm paid for my time. When I write a column, I'm paid for the column, whether it took me 45 minutes or 5 hours to write.

If you're a professor, you get paid to teach your classes, and grade your students. There are also expectations (and perhaps requirements) to provide a certain amount of mentoring, do research, write, and publish. Other than actually being in class, though, you're not being paid for your time, but for your output.

dick said...

If you do not show up for your class but you are still able to finish the course should you get paid for the classes you missed?

What I was getting at is that if you are paid to teach and you instead slough it off on an assistant because you don't like to teach survey courses, are you in fact doing what you were hired to do? If you are hired as a professor and you spend all your time doing research rather than professing are you doing what you were hired to do?

I worked for years as a computer consultant. I could have done the job in most cases in about half the time I spent at the site. If I did my job and did not show up the rest of the time should I get paid for the whole project or should I only get paid for the time I spent on the project. Professors are hired to teach classes and mentor students yet many of the professors I had in my higher level courses taught at most one class per semester. Were they in fact doing what they were hired to do?

Joan said...

Dick, I have no idea whether or not your professors were earning their keep.

At the same time, I have no doubt that both Ann and Nina quite capably fulfill the expectations that their employer holds.

dick said...

Their employer is the people of the state of Wisconsin, not the administrators of the U of Wisconsin.

Joan said...

Oh, give it a rest, Dick -- they were interviewed, vetted, hired, and eventually tenured by the faculty and staff at UW; they are employed by the law school, not the state government. They didn't get where they are by popular vote or any other kind of election. (That's a nightmare staffing scenario, for sure.)