Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Dealing with a dooce

This week marks one year since I was "dooced." That's blogworld parlance for being outed and fired from one's job for something written on a blog. A blogger named Heather B. Armstrong coined the term and she serves as a sort of patron saint of anonymous bloggers.

When I began blogging as the Phantom Prof in the fall of 2004, there were an estimated 4,000 personal blogs (or 40,000 or 400,000... I'm getting your emails on conflicting research numbers here) on the internet. Today there are 40 million. Blogs have changed journalism, created stars and spawned spin-offs all over media.

What's good about that: More people writing about life in our times.

What's bad about it: Everybody thinks they're Samuel Pepys; like everything else, 90 percent of blogs are crap.

Newspapers came late to the trend -- as they do to every trend -- and started making their reporters, editors and columnists write blogs. That misses the point, doesn't it? The best blogs have nothing to do with mainstream media. Instead, they reflect the personality, quirkier the better, of their writers (instead of the tightly controlled institutional personality of an employer) and give readers a peek into someone else's world. One of my current faves, Fresh Pepper, writes terse, witty entries daily, chronicling conversations at work, things not to say on dates and stuff he's cooking while living in his parents' basement. Trivial perhaps. But fascinating.

I started blogging in the journal style, writing about how it feels to be one of the small, underpaid army of adjunct profs in a private university where money and social status (of students, not profs) rule. College has become a service industry, if you hadn't noticed, with teachers like me expected to give special treatment to the paying customers.

At the lowest-rung level of academia, I felt like a phantom, floating from classroom to classroom, getting little recognition from my tenured colleagues other than the occasional reminder that I was not one of them and never would be. And when there were problems with whiny students demanding that grades be raised or unfinished assignments overlooked, I got no support. Like cops, there's never a tenured prof around when you need one.

Blogging let me vent. And, I thought, if I wrote the stories down, maybe in a year or two I’d have a book.

Then came the dooce. How students found my blog and when, I’ll never know. While I was teaching, not one person on campus ever asked me if I was a blogger or if I was the mysterious Phantom Prof.

When I received a letter from the head of my department telling me my contract for another year of classes was not being renewed, it was a sock in the solar plexus. I never expected it. It actually took me a few days to make the connection between blog and firing. They couldn’t be that petty, I thought. These are media people. These are my friends.

Funny, they teach courses in PR and they couldn’t even manage their own PR when the media began writing the story of the lowly adjunct fired for writing funny (but true!) stories about the spoiled rich kids, their awful parents and the decline of college education. These days stories of bloggers being fired seem like yesterday's news. From flight attendants to lawyers to dental assistants, the doocing of bloggers has created a whole new chapter for the employee handbook: Blogging, policies regarding.

Did I suffer from the doocing? Can’t say I have. The university tried to shame me, but failed. They couldn’t keep me from getting another teaching job (part-time but wonderful). And they only exposed their own hypocrisy in trying to punish me. I’ll never forget the words the esteemed department chair said to one of the reporters doing yet another story on the Phantom Prof: “Words can hurt.” Yep, a Ph.D. plays the sticks-and-stones card.

So as I continue to speak to corporate groups about what to expect from the Me First Generation of college students, as I juggle more writing assignments than I’ve ever had, as I work feverishly to finish my book, The Phantom Professor: Telling Tales Out of School, I don’t regret one word I’ve written here.

My community of readers has grown beyond my craziest expectations. And your encouragement is the honey on the biscuit. When I get mail from Lebanon, Israel, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada – golly, y’all. I don’t know how you found me, but I’m glad you did.

After the test of getting dooced, it’s come up aces.


Blogger BlondebutBright said...

Congrats on your year of making lemons into lemonade. I've thoroughly enjoyed your writing pointers and your witty observations.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Living (and writing) well is truely the best revenge...


11:26 AM  
Blogger milowent said...

hats off to you! can't believe it's been a year already.

12:39 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Thank you! Keep reading. I'm still loaded with material I haven't even used yet.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed reading your posts. I found your blog via a newspaper article covering your discontinued teaching at a local college.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous madhat said...

I came here for your online writing lessons that Bitch Phd advertised. They were very useful and contained a lot of useful information. But I became a regular reader because of your honest writing style. I believe that the best teachers are those who are brutally honest.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

You have to let us know when the book comes out. As for anonymous, too bad he did not think of taking some notes now and then. From reading the stories here, it is clear the prof did not lure students into anything. Students actually are quite capable of not only disclosing all sorts of things but of digging their own graves as well. At any rate, keep writing the stories.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Tabitha Grimalkin said...

You are my hero! Cheers!

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really enjoy your writing. don't hate me but i think your blog numbers are off a little.

there were millions of active personal blogs prior to 2004. pitas, diaryland, typepad, livejournal, blogspot, blogger, etc., from 1999 forward.

neil gaiman, bloggin his creation of american gods, had eighteen thousand readers in 2002 alone.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous wayward said...

Anonymous may have a point, though. In our storytelling class, we were taught that telling other people's stories without their consent was unethical.

Talking about experiences with former students seems like a gray area. There are some laws protecting student privacy, and I'd guess that the question would be whether the characters in her book are identifiable.

To be very honest, an instructor who publicly blogs about students could be perceived as a liability by school administrators. If the blog's contents resulted in a lawsuit or negative publicity, it could very quickly become the administrators' problem. When the instructor is a nontenured adjunct, getting rid of her may have seemed like the easiest solution.

1:07 AM  
Blogger steffie said...

I'm delurking now... I've been reading for a few months and I'm really enjoying your blog.

Congratulations to you on a year or post-dooce blogging. I'm an adjunct (for just a couple more semesters) and I find both comfort and relief in your posts. Cheers!

10:02 AM  
Blogger steffie said...

comfort and relief. I just realized I made your blog sound like a laxative.

But you know what I mean.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good God! I blog about my students, my department chair, and other characters at the university all the time. I don't name names, and I adulterate the stories... and/but the blog is only semi- anonymous. The thing is, I don't say anything on the blog I don't also say to these peoples' faces. I figure that if they find the blog and don't like it, I can say well, take me seriously then when I talk to you...if it wasn't a big deal when I brought it up in our meeting, it shouldn't be a big deal if I tell a version of the story on a blog.

Sorry you didn't get renewed, glad you renewed yourself.

1:19 AM  
Anonymous highschoolkid07 said...

Hey, aww! PP! I didn't know!
You want to know how I found your blog! Well, I was researching to find a good colleges to apply to (I guess I'll apply to SMU... just because I'm very familiar with this area and family and all that jazz). I found a lot of kids who though SMU was awesome. I found the same amount who though SMU was the pits. So I talked to those kids. They told me... well a lot of what you've said in your blog, actually! One of them gave me a link to this saying that you were a prof at SMU. She told me not to tell anyone else. I was like "Oh, is this a secret society thing?" I actually did tell someone else. My Psych teacher who majored in Psych at SMU, I told her. She likes your blog a lot, BTW. And I've been coming back ever since.
Your blog is great! It's entertaining and helped me so much and has a lot of tips I need to know for when I finally get to college. (Eck... one more year! )
~ highschoolkid07

1:22 PM  
Blogger Maja said...

Yeah! Nice one Phantom Prof. I'm waiting for my blog to bite me on the bum one day, but hopefully it never will :)

12:52 AM  
Blogger Erik said...

Hi Phantom prof,

I got into big trouble at my university in London for blogging. The story is here:

I'm writing a book too I'm afraid, but it's not as good as yours and it's not really about my own case as much as the general issue of freedom of speech in the era of the internet.

Anyways. I have a writeup of your case here: It would be interesting to know if I got it at least partially correct.



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