Faculty take on blogosphere

By Matea Wasend

English professor Marlon James had no interest in writing a blog three years ago, but an editor friend pestered him so much he finally joined E-Blogger. “I think I titled my first blog something like ‘There you go’,” James said. Contrary to his expectations, his blog quickly became an outlet for a different kind of creative expression than he was used to.”It’s a forum to get things off my chest like you can’t do in fiction,” James explained.

James is one of a growing number of Macalester faculty and staff who are adopting blogging as a tool to talk about their academic interests, their hobbies and their lives.

James’s blog, entitled “Marlon James Among Other Things.,” covers a range of topics far broader than just the literary field.

“I rarely talk about books,” he said. “I’m pretty much just tal-king about anything.”

One example of “anything”: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “The only show I can remember that often left me breathless and in wonder,” James wrote in his blog, “the only show that without fail had at least once instant each episode that had me saying I wish I wrote that. Not The Sopranos, or Six Feet Under, or Law and Order, or even The West Wing, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer. By Joss Whedon.”

Broadcasting opinions like that to the world could get James in trouble with the Macalester public-and it has. He once mentioned in his blog that although he frequently teaches “The Great Gatsby,” he had never read it. He said a student who had read the entry in his class subsequently reprimanded him.

James said that when he has time, he updates his blog frequently. But the daaaa recent release of a new book and a subsequent book tour has kept him too busy to write a new entry since the spring, but he said he plans to start posting again soon.

American Studies professor Duchess Harris is another faculty member with a personal blog. Harris, who went on leave in spring 2009 after receiving a $96,000 Bush Leadership fellowship, says she joined E-Blogger because she fits into “the demographic of ‘career mom’ and wanted to share stories and get feedback.” Although her leave does not end until January 2011, she said she plans on using her blog as a teaching tool upon her return.

At present, her blog is a part of the Star Tribune Your Voices section, which features blogs from different members of the Minnesota community. Your Voices bloggers are encouraged to post entries about “current events, public issues and day-to-day life in Minnesota.”

“I talk about my research, my new journey as a certified student attorney, current events and raising children,” Harris said. “For me the appeal is that I want to know what people are thinking and I like sharing what I’m thinking.”

This includes what she’s thinking about not only politics, parenting and her career, but also about issues of extreme relevance in today’s online world-like her post on “Facebook fighting.”

“A funny thing happened on the way to my Facebook page,” she wrote. “People who have never met, some of whom I’m embarrassed to say I have never met, are fighting with each other on my page.

“If you wouldn’t say it at my dinner table, don’t say it on my page.”

One staff member on campus maintains a blog directly related to her work at Macalester. Library Director Terri Fishel’s Scholarly Communication blog provides updated information on the process of academic publishing, which she said is an important aspect of her job.

An advocate for change in the publishing process, Fishel’s blog is mostly aimed at other faculty members.

“I want faculty to be aware of their rights as authors,” she said. “I see a blog as a means of keeping people informed.”

Fishel values her blog as a teaching tool, but said an unfortunate aspect of blogging is that misinformation is easily distributed over the Internet. “With blogs, anyone can be a publisher, and there is no control over what gets published.” But, she said, if every reader maintains a healthy skepticism, this problem can be minimized.