The topic of Anonymity is perennial -- see the most recent discussions of anonymity in The Chronicle of Higher Education and subsequent web-discussions (e.g. Zuska). I briefly mentioned the issue last year.
Is there anything new to say on the topic?
Some of the brave souls who rage against us Anonymous Ones say that we are damaging the public image of Academe. According to the anti-Anonymous writer in the Chronicle, Peter Plagens the Painter, we "skulk" (in fact, some of us simultaneously skulk and gripe, perhaps indicating a talent for multi-tasking?), we fear our stories might not "check out", and those of us with tenure have "no excuse whatsoever".
The particular examples in the Chronicle piece are perhaps not the best ones to choose for debating the reasons why an academic might choose to be anonymous. A thorough, thoughtful discussion of the anonymity issue would at least mention some concerns beyond fear of mild reprisals for saying, just as an example, that the Dean of my college is a robot.
Here's one of my many reasons: Safety. Every week I reject (delete) a number of obscene and/or threatening comments that are sent to me via this blog. I don't delete comments that say that I am a selfish, exploitative, cheap, racist man-hater, as long as there is some content to those comments beyond the criticism and epithets. I delete only the truly obscene and hateful comments whose only purpose, as far as I can tell, is to demonstrate that there are immature and sick people out there.
What if I weren't anonymous? (or, I should say, semi-anonymous, as some readers know who I am). Do I only get these comments because I am anonymous? I don't believe that. And why would I want these sick people to know exactly who I am, where I live, where my daughter goes to school? In my real, non-anonymous academic life, I have dealt with enough unstable people, including one who threatened my child, to know that I'd rather not expand my personal encounters with such people, even if most of them are just jerks who would never do more than try to post an obscene (anonymous) comment on a blog.
The anti-anonymous Chronicle essayist says that we anonymous writers might reinforce the view that academics are "fragile, frightened creatures". That sounds like the point of view of someone who has never been truly threatened. I don't spend my days feeling frightened, and I really would rather not. The fragility and fright mentioned in the article seem to refer to fear that one will be reprimanded for complaining about a lack of chalk in a classroom, not fear that someone will harm your child.
The obvious way to reduce my exposure to threatening people is to not have a blog, but I am not so fragile and frightened that I want sick people to control what I do.
I have picked a rather extreme reason to discuss today, but I chose it in part because I think that people like Peter Plagens the Painter are being unrealistic and sanctimonious in criticizing anonymous writers. Also, he chose to title his commentary "The Dangers of Anonymity", but he didn't discuss any real dangers, just trivial ones.
I probably sound angrier than I really am, but I think it is bizarre to suggest that anonymous writers are endangering Academe. I worry more about people who don't think through their arguments before piling on ridicule and accusations, and who can't imagine that anyone has a different experience than their own.
6 months ago