While I suppose it might have been possible to merely reply to Liz’s comment, I thought the distinction I was trying to make deserved a fuller exposition.

The “teachers lounge” or “faculty meetings” have long been established. Students know these things exist. I have no problem (as many people seemed to) with Liz’s attempt to set up a broader net-based equivalent. I doubt that most students would either. My primary point was that most genuinely useful discourse (for me at least) in the academic setting occurs when students and teachers talk to each other without such division into “social clubs.”

The furor over Liz’s project amazed me. I still think it was more a reaction against hierarchy (by those completely outside it!) than a reaction against community building. However, after a moments reflection, I realized that any type of community building is subject to these squabbles. Witness the (now ancient history) furor over “A-list” bloggers and their cliques.

I can’t see my attitude on this changing much if I ever get on the tenure track. From my conversation with those on that tortuous path, it seems to me to be largely a matter of politics, not pedagogy. It’s a matter for discussion inside the gated community, not for those outside it. Why would a student care about that crap? Consequently, that part of the discussion is, and should be, separate from discussions of pedagogical strategies.

I favor “user-centered design.” Therefore, in designing classroom strategies I think that discussion is impoverished if students are excluded. Education is supposed to serve them, not exclude them. Tenure and institutional politics are a separate matter entirely, and have nothing to do with what I was writing about.

The situation is more complex in graduate education. Graduate students need to know the political mine field they are walking into. Most of my teachers are candid about it, but they are also encouraging. Like most situations, I figure if I keep my eyes open I won’t get blind-sided. But that’s just my opinion for now. I read the horror stories of disgruntled academics on the web, but I also look at the experiences of the practicing academics I work with each day in different stages of the process. There are lots of shades of gray.

But the troubles of tenure should not, and do not, effect the way most of the professors I know conduct themselves in the classroom (or by extension, the web) to any greater or lesser degree than simple gatekeeping regarding what is personal (and private) and what is public.