3 questions to a higher ed blogger: Dean Dad, a dean blogging anonymously at “Confessions of a Community College Dean”

December 5th, 2005 Karine Joly No Comments

“Dean Dad” is the pseudonym used by a dean who has been blogging anonymously at “Confessions of a Community College Dean” since June 2004. I’ve already told you to check out his blog as it really offers interesting insights. Dean Dad has also recently written a very good piece for Inside Higher Ed titled “Deaning 101.”

1) You have been blogging for about a year and half. Why did you decide to blog at that time? Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with blogging?

My intro to blogging came from an article in Slate.com about baseball blogs. It referred to Management by Baseball, which I clicked on and started reading. It’s a wonderful blog that uses baseball as a metaphor for various management techniques, but what really made it stand out for me is that it’s written like a newspaper column. (Prior to that, my sense of blogs was that they were essentially lists of links, and that held no interest for me.)

Due to the idiosyncrasies of my career and family life, I had developed a bunch of observations and pet theories that I couldn’t find anywhere in the literature on higher ed management. With the baseball blog as a model (you’ll notice I use the same template, as a sort of homage), I decided to start my own. The original title was “Confessions of a Suburban Dad,” which explains the url: suburbdad.blogspot.com.

For the first six months or so, the blog was very hit-and-miss. I’d post maybe once or twice a week, with lots of political entries. Sometime around January, I took stock of what I had posted up to that point and noticed that the political stuff was, by far, the least interesting. So I retitled the blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean” and narrowed its focus to higher ed, family, and the intersections between the two. (I even deleted the old political entries.) Once in a blue moon I’ll veer into politics, but I really try to keep a lid on that, since I rarely have anything unique to contribute to that particular conversation.

2) As a blogging dean, do you think blogs can be used as communication platforms on campus? Can blogs help keep communication channels open with students or faculty members? (For example, a dean at Ithaca College uses a blog to communicate with her students)

Possibly, but at the risk of banality. (I haven’t seen the Ithaca dean’s blog, so that’s not a shot.) As I’ve written on the blog, hierarchy is an amplifier. Pronouncements coming from my office carry the weight of my office.

Communication on campus, I’ve found, isn’t really a matter of lack of media. It’s a matter of confidentiality, perceptions, and politics. There are certain matters on my desk that I can’t openly discuss with the wider campus community without seriously breaching someone’s confidentiality. To the conspiratorially-minded, that sounds like “secrecy,” but it’s really something closer to “discretion.”

The blog allows me to think out loud precisely because it isn’t identified with my office. I can’t afford to think out loud on campus in my capacity as dean.

3) You’ve chosen to blog anonymously – as some other bloggers in academic. Can you explain why you made this choice? Do you think your blog would be different if you were blogging under your real name?

I couldn’t do it under my real name, even though I’d love the c.v. line. (My blog has far more readers than any of my “official” scholarly work ever had!)

Blogging under my real name would force me to keep every discussion “safe.” Everything would have to be sanitized for my protection. If I had to do that, I’d probably just stop altogether. Part of it is fear of getting “dooced,” although I take great pains in the blog to keep the discussions general, structural, and constructive; I’ve never written anything negative about anybody identifiable at my workplace, and I don’t intend to. That’s not the point. Nor is there any salacious gossip, despite the blog’s title. Still, if it were under my name, folks on my campus would start reading it for clues to internal politics, for ammunition against me or others, for all the wrong reasons. Anonymity allows me the freedom to ask questions without actually putting anybody on the spot.

For example, a few months ago I posted some questions I had about Honors programs. The responses came from people at many different kinds of institutions, and gave me some ideas I’ve actually used on campus. Had I posted those exact same questions on campus, it would have been taken as an attack on the program, as an assault on excellence, as a salvo in a turf war, etc., and I probably wouldn’t have received the useful range of answers anyway.

Interestingly, the longer I write, the less the blog is about my own world. I started taking questions a while back: it’s become a recurring feature called “Ask the Administrator,” which is much more fun for me than just writing about my own issues. There seems to be a lack of safe spaces in academia in which to have frank cross-rank conversation. To the extent that my blog offers that space, I’m thrilled to do it.

Although I rose through the academic ranks — grad student, adjunct, f-t faculty, associate dean, dean — I’m still surprised at the number of people at a given level who’ve never been able to ask the burning questions of anyone higher on the food chain. If my blog helps folks get a sense of what the academic world looks like from here, and therefore maybe a sense of some options they didn’t know they had, then it serves a purpose beyond just letting me blow off some cognitive steam.

Got a question or comment?