• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

But My Wise and Worldly Readers!

I'll miss the comments section.

June 25, 2020
 
 

Inside Higher Ed is shutting down comments, as of July 1. No, I didn’t know it was coming.

I’ll admit being disappointed. Not shocked, but disappointed.

Moderating comments is a difficult job. Certain topics have trip wires that trigger precooked responses, regardless of the arguments in which the topics are embedded. Back when I still used the Blogspot site, I eventually had to shut down the comments there, as various spammers liked to mark their territory there over and over again. (The day job made constant moderation impossible.) It just got to be too much. So I can’t really blame Inside Higher Ed for doing what I did on my old site years ago.

That said, I’ve also been lucky with the wise and worldly readers who’ve engaged with my pieces over the years.

They’ve certainly helped me think through my positions more rigorously. When I go back and reread some of my earlier stuff, I’m struck by the heedless confidence in some pieces. Sometimes it supplied an appealing energy, but in retrospect, it mostly reflected a very specific and situated perspective. My wise and worldly readers helped me figure that out -- sometimes nicely and sometimes less nicely -- by pointing out where points I took to be obviously true could be read differently. It helps. I still mess up from time to time -- occupational hazard -- but I’ve learned to accept the feedback when I do.

As Mary Churchill pointed out, we’ll always have Twitter. I like Twitter a lot, but it very much lends itself to heedless confidence. It’s great as a self-updating annotated bibliography, and it works well for keeping up with folks, but it isn’t really built for nuance.

Inside Higher Ed will replace comments with letters to the editor. Those certainly lend themselves to longer-form exposition, but they’ll tend to be fewer, and slower to arrive. I’m hopeful that some of the letters will offer useful perspectives that will enhance the discussion, but it’s not the same thing. For instance, I’ve been known to end posts with questions, asking readers what they think about a given topic. Absent a comment section, that wouldn’t make much sense. I’ll miss doing that; it often felt more intellectually honest than just planting a flag in a position and declaring it. And sometimes people provided answers far better than any I had at hand.

I’ll admit rarely being able to predict which posts would set the comments on fire and which wouldn’t. And sometimes a post that set the comments going here would go nowhere on Twitter, or vice versa. That realization was liberating; if I couldn’t predict what would take off and what wouldn’t, then there wasn’t much point in worrying about it. I suppose this move will double down on that freedom.

Honestly, I’m mostly just grateful to still have this platform. The deadlines force me to focus, which in turn forces me to think through some positions more fully than I would in daily life. It’s not unusual to start writing a piece not knowing how it will end; on a good day, I can go back and try to make it look like I knew from the outset. That exercise helps me in my day job. Just this week, at one moment of particular emotional strain, I went back to something I had posted the previous week and remembered that I knew better than to react impulsively. Having my own personal Jiminy Cricket in writing helps.

Enough writing about writing. There’s plenty going on out there to think about, from the pandemic to educational technology to structural racism to parenting.

Thank you to all of my wise and worldly readers who have populated the comments section over the years. I’ve read faithfully, even if not until the end of the day, and I’ve learned from you. It won’t be the same without you.

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