Title

5 Reasons Why This Blogger Will Miss Your Comments

What do you think?

June 24, 2020
 
 

I was as surprised as you were by the announcement that Inside Higher Ed is eliminating comments.

At this stage, I see little point in arguing about the wisdom of this choice. True, I would not have made this change, but I also have an enormous degree of trust and respect for Inside Higher Ed’s co-founders and editors, Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman, who made this difficult decision.

For many years, Scott and Doug have operated Inside Higher Ed as a public benefit for all of us in higher education. They deserve both our gratitude and every benefit of the doubt. We may disagree with their decision, but it is their decision to make, and it was undertaken with the health of our community and the resiliency of Inside Higher Ed in mind.

What I can do is provide a list of reasons why I will miss reading your comments.

No. 1: The End of the Conversation

I’ve always looked at my blog posts as conversation starters. The more I learn about higher education, the less I think I know. Writing an almost daily blog post since 2009 has been relatively easy because I know so little. There are so many questions that I have about how colleges and universities work. Posting questions is easy. Readers who chose to make the transition to writers in the comments were doing most of the hard work. Plus, I know what I think. What is interesting is what you think. It is from hearing your ideas that I learn new things. I’ll miss your arguments, and I’ll miss your book recommendations.

No. 2: The Room Is Smarter Than the Individual

Let’s stipulate that comments are often ill informed, biased and off point. The question I have for you is, how is this different from most of the stuff that I write? We need to write lots of mediocre stuff to get to anything that is halfway decent. Maybe some people can be consistently smart (Matt Reed and John Warner come to mind), but they are in the minority. The hope is that, in aggregate, we arrive at some shared insight. Learning new and true things is much easier if you have a diversity of ideas and opinions. Commenting is a messy way to get to some shared wisdom, but I’m not sure that there is a better way.

No. 3: Good Speech Is the Best Answer to Bad Speech

Lots of dumb, ill-informed and ungenerous comments have been made in Inside Higher Ed over the years. At the same time, lots of brilliant, generous and highly informed comments have been made. Does the latter balance out the former? I tend to think so. We are all worried about the impact of hurtful speech. The cost of living with those who use online platforms such as Inside Higher Ed to spread biased and misleading ideas is high. But the cost of not providing a space for bad ideas is that the space for good ideas is also eliminated. We can’t have one without the other. And we can’t know what separates good and bad speech. We need to have it all.

No. 4: The Need to Create Space for Unpopular Ideas

Over the years, the pieces that I’ve written for Inside Higher Ed have been attacked in the comments in almost every way imaginable. Getting attacked is no fun. In most cases, however, those criticisms have been about my ideas and have not devolved into personal attacks. When those personal attacks have come (and they did), the editors did not approve those comments and even banned some commenters. This moderation of comments is, no doubt, an enormous task. But in providing a space for critical feedback, Inside Higher Ed also offered a place for the expression of unpopular ideas. A diminishing minority of people in higher ed have tenure. Few of us can express our ideas freely. The ability to say unpopular things without fear of punishment, through anonymous comments, can sometimes be difficult for our community. But that is the price of allowing ideas outside of the mainstream of thinking to circulate.

No. 5: Letters to the Editor Are Not Dialogue

As I understand the Inside Higher Ed plan, a robust letters to the editor section will replace comments. This plan will provide a forum for well-reasoned responses and arguments, and I look forward to reading those pieces. Letters, however, are not a dialogue. Inside Higher Ed’s comments section provided readers with a jumping-off point to talk to one another. I always viewed my blog posts as conversation starters. They are a place to say my piece and then get out of the way. That is why I seldom commented on the comments. Once setting the table, I wanted to step back and listen to the conversation. Often, I would take the comments that made me think and turn them into new blog posts, and the conversation would start anew. I’ll miss that back-and-forth.

Finally, I want to thank all of you that regularly (or irregularly) commented on my writing. Thank you. I’ve both learned a ton from all of you, while also having my skin considerably thickened.

Hopefully, our community conversation will make a seamless move to the letters to the editor section. Nothing ever stays the same, even (maybe especially) in higher education. It will be interesting to see where this next phase in our journey together takes us.

Maybe the conversation about Inside Higher Ed articles and blogs will move over to Twitter? Should every Inside Higher Ed piece have a unique hashtag and a direct link to Twitter?.

How do you think we might be able to keep our Inside Higher Ed community talking to each other in the absence of comments?

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