"I shouldn't be doing this. I'll be going up for tenure soon."
It was with those words of self admonishment that an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Daniel Drezner, inaugurated his Web log in September 2002.
As thousands of his online readers know, Mr. Drezner didn't heed his own advice. Instead, he rose to blogosphere prominence. His site is perhaps the most widely read blog focusing on the international political economy, turning scholarly research on issues like outsourcing, the politics of trade, and monetary policy into bite-size pieces of analysis for a wider audience.
On Friday, Mr. Drezner's first blog entry came back to haunt him: He was informed by his department that he was denied tenure and would have to look elsewhere for a job.
Under normal circumstances, a scholar who is denied tenure assumes that the decision was simply a reflection of a department's assessment of scholarship. In this case, Mr. Drezner and others are wondering whether the blog may have had an impact on his tenure status.
News of his tenure denial has struck a nerve in the growing community of academic bloggers, who are aware that blogging can be a double-edged sword: a powerful way to communicate scholarly ideas to the public and increase name recognition, and a risky venture in a field where every idea - even those roughly thrown together at 3 a.m. - matters.
While refusing to go into specifics about Mr. Drezner's tenure case, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Chicago, Dali Yang, dismissed the notion that his department considered Mr. Drezner's blog in making its decision. "I can assure you it's not specifically about the blog," he said.
Mr. Drezner says he's confident that his blog did not play a major role in the decision. "I would caution people against jumping to conclusions," he told The New York Sun yesterday in a telephone interview. Answering his own question about whether he had any regrets about blogging, he wrote on his site, "I can't say I didn't go into this with my eyes open."
Academic bloggers interviewed say the most common problem they face is convincing their colleagues that their online activity does not come at the expense of scholarly research. While some of the nation's most prominent scholars have started their own blogs, most notably Chicago giants Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, and Richard Posner, a federal judge, blogging is still perceived by some academics as a slight activity lacking in intellectual value.
"I've heard plenty of comments that suggest someone's work could be better if they only didn't spend their time writing other things," said one untenured academic blogger who contributes to the widely read Volokh Conspiracy, founded by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh. In an e-mail to the Sun, the blogger, who writes under the pseudonym "Juan Non-Volokh," said he blogs anonymously precisely because he doesn't want to hurt his tenure chances.
Another blogger, Sean Carroll, a physicist at the University of Chicago who was denied tenure in May, said some of his colleagues have the opinion that blogging means "spending time as an educator or a public intellectual that you could be spending as a researcher." Mr. Carroll, who contributes to the science-themed blog Cosmic Variance, said he "balanced things fine, but there was a question of what other people think."
He defended his contributions to the blog, which joyfully tackles topics such as extra dimensions of space, dark energy, and galaxies, as "part and parcel of being a professor," giving him a powerful tool to interact with other physicists and to communicate complicated subjects to the general public.
Colleagues of Mr. Drezner insist he has sustained an impressive level of academic output since starting his blog. He's published essays in refereed journals, such as Political Science Quarterly, and has written pieces for other prominent journals, including Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. He's also completed a book titled "Who Rules? The Regulation of Globalization," for which he received an advance contract from Princeton University, according to his curriculum vitae.
Another risk for academic bloggers is that their content - particularly postings that are political in nature - will offend professors in their departments. There's a "fear that something they post will politically be alienating to some colleagues," Mr. Volokh, who gained tenure three years before joining the blogosphere in 2002, told the Sun.
That concern weighs more heavily on his pseudonymous co-blogger, who wrote: "I tend to be conservative/libertarian on most issues. While my colleagues know this, it's not in my interest to remind them of my views, particularly when presented in a non-academic way."
In a more subtle way, bloggers also risk drawing negative attention to their work by joining academic debates in such a casual and shallow manner, without the benefit of an editor and frequently without backing up their ideas as thoroughly as they would in a scholarly journal. Online academic disagreements could very well "translate into an evaluation of a scholar's abilities or talents," Mr. Volokh said.
The debate over academic blogging has raged in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, sparked by an article in July by a humanities professor at a small liberal-arts college in the Midwest who, writing under the pseudonym Ivan Tribble, said he's seen job-seekers destroy their job chances by irritating people through a blog.
"The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why?" the scholar wrote. "What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It's not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it's also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses."
The article elicited an angry response from an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, Henry Farrell, who contributes to the blog Crooked Timber.
"To dismiss blogging as a bad idea altogether is to make an enormous mistake," he wrote. "For these academics, blogging isn't a hobby; it's an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future."