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Technorati: A Disappointment

The Chronicle of Higher Education Has a Symposium on Juan Cole

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a symposium on the career of Juan Cole. Its anonymous editorial voice writes:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: Can Blogging Derail Your Career?: Juan R.I. Cole became arguably the most visible commentator writing on the Middle East today. A professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and president of the Middle East Studies Association, Cole has voiced strong opposition to the war in Iraq and to the treatment of the Palestinians, garnering him plaudits from the left and condemnation from supporters of Israel and President Bush's foreign policy. In the words of a colleague, Cole has done something no other scholar of the region has done since Bernard Lewis: "become a household word."

Among the worthwhile contributions are Juan Cole's:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: Juan R.I. Cole Responds: The ability to speak directly and immediately to the public on matters of one's expertise, and to bring to bear all one's skills to affect the public debate, is new and breathtaking. I have had some success in explaining the threat of Al Qaeda and suggesting how it should be combated, and have addressed U.S. counter-terrorism officials on numerous occasions on those matters. And then there is Iraq, about which I was one of the few U.S. historians to have written professionally before the 2003 war. In the summer of 2003, when the general mood of the administration, the news media, and the public was unrelievedly celebratory, I warned that a guerrilla war was building and that powerful sectarian forces such as the movement of Moktada al-Sadr were a gathering threat. I gained a hearing not only with broad segments of the public but also at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

I am a Middle East expert. I lived in the area for nearly 10 years, speak several of its languages, and have given my life to understanding its history and culture. Since September 11, 2001, my country has been profoundly involved with the region, both negatively and positively. Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like to monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in the general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they might have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this, trying to help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I have been silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose in journals locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for the sake of a "career"? The role of the public intellectual is my career. And it is a hell of a career. I recommend it.

Michael Berube:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Attention Blogs Bring: By MICHAEL BÉRUBÉ: Juan Cole's blogging may, indeed, have cost him a job at Yale. I think that's Yale's loss rather than Cole's, so I don't see it as a blow to academic freedom or to the professor's scholarly reputation.... Cole is sui generis: He's a prominent academic blogger who writes about the contemporary Middle East. For the culture warriors of the right, it doesn't matter that he is a moderate who supported the removal of Saddam Hussein; what matters is that he has become the go-to person on the Middle East for many readers of liberal blogs, where is he widely admired (and sometimes criticized) for his commentary on the war in Iraq and all related matters. I can't think of another academic blogger who would generate the kind of vile attacks mounted against him this year by John Fund at The Wall Street Journal (who called him "Taliban Man") and Christopher Hitchens at Slate (who called him "a minor nuisance on the fringes of the academic Muslim apologist community").

But in another way, the campaign against Cole bespeaks a broader phenomenon. In much of academe, blogs are still considered to be variants of personal diaries or individual soapboxes. When two young bloggers — one a political scientist, one a physicist — were denied tenure at the University of Chicago last year, academic bloggers speculated that their blogging had something to do with the decision.... I don't know whether my own blogging has enhanced or damaged my academic career. I know it's brought more public attention to some of my academic work; I know it's allowed me to respond quickly and effectively to people like David Horowitz, and I've enjoyed debunking some of his more lunatic claims about me — and about liberal professors in general. So far, most of the feedback I've gotten from colleagues has been good, but I've had plenty of detractors, too...

Siva Vaidhyananthan:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Lessons of Juan Cole: By SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN: Ever since the publication in 1987 of Russell Jacoby's narrative The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, I have been rolling my eyes every time I read or hear yet another public intellectual complaining that they don't make public intellectuals like they used to. Now, I've never considered the heyday of the Partisan Review and Dissent the apex of intellectuals' relevance in the United States. But most of all, I am tired of hearing that there is no space for intellectuals to make a difference today in American thought and political debate.

There has never been a better time to be a public intellectual, and the Web is the big reason why. Juan Cole is exhibit No. 1. Cole is an academic who writes clearly and forcefully about the most trenchant issues of the day (academics are not supposed to know how to do that, remember?). Cole gets quoted by the mainstream news media. He appears regularly in popular publications like Salon. And — love it or hate it — everyone who is anyone reads his blog. For the past four years, he has been as influential as any other major American academic. If Jacoby were right, Juan Cole never should have happened...

Dan Drezner:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Trouble With Blogs: [T]op departments are profoundly risk-averse when it comes to senior hires. In some ways, that caution is sensible — hiring a senior professor is the equivalent of signing a baseball player to a lifetime contract without any ability to release or trade him. In such a situation, even small doubts about an individual become magnified. The trouble with blogs is that they seem designed to provoke easy doubts. Blogs are an outlet for unexpurgated, unreviewed, and occasionally unprofessional musings. What makes them worth reading can also make them prone to error....

In some ways, this problem is merely the latest manifestation of what happens when professors try to become public intellectuals.... Blogging multiplies the problem a thousandfold, creating new pathways to public recognition beyond the control of traditional academic gatekeepers or even op-ed editors. Any usurpation of scholarly authority is bound to upset those who benefit the most from the status quo...

And Brad DeLong.