Recently while doing some research for a story, I was caught off guard when I found a web log purportedly written by Philip Eaton, president of Seattle Pacific University (Wash.). The blog was casual and witty, and, judging by the comments, apparently enjoyed a devoted following of readers. They would often ask advice from "President Eaton," who signed his posts "Phildog." The blog's title, "Seattle Pacific University's Bestest President Ever," was the first clue that it was a spoof (not, I should point out, the boast about being "bestest," since I do not know President Eaton, but the grammatical construction).
A quick call to the university confirmed that the blog was indeed a prank, but it made me wonder whether any college or university presidents actually have joined the blogging masses. Blogs seem to have taken hold in other areas of higher education; why not use them to help promote a university's agenda, straight from its leader?
That question was answered by Karine Joly (who writes our Internet Technology column) in a post on her own site, collegewebeditor.com. She conducted an interview with Arizona State University President Michael Crow, which mentioned the launch of his blog, "The President's Post" (www.michaelcrow.net). In his earliest posts, Crow writes about campus happenings, global issues, plans for the year ahead, and so on, all in a light, conversational tone.
"In an ideal world, it would be great to have sufficient time and opportunity to converse with all 61,000-plus students in our ASU community, but let's face it, that isn't very realistic given the regimented-to-a-nanosecond nature of modern life," Crow writes. "Sure, we've exchanged e-mails and letters, editorials in the State Press, and chatted at Town Halls or on the mall, but given the increasing pace and complexity of all things ASU, I'm interested in maximizing the same technology that is making our world more interconnected to communicate with you in a more dynamic, timely and constructive way." Crow also plans to begin regular podcasts.
Joly notes that Crow isn't the first blogging president. Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon (http://president.msu.edu/blog) has been at it for a little over a year now, and Trinity University (D.C.) President Patricia McGuire (www.trinitydc.edu/about/president/blog), began posting last fall.
Simon does an excellent job of writing about national and global issues and how they ultimately impact MSU.
"I know many of our students take for granted our ability to communicate almost instantaneously across oceans and international boundaries these days," she writes. "But it's truly amazing, especially to those of us who grew up in different eras, to see how our technology has evolved, and more importantly, how today that technology facilitates linkages that bring us ever closer together."
McGuire discusses a wide range of topics, from national literacy studies to what books she has on her reading list. She also regularly asks for reader input on the questions she raises in her posts, a great way to get a sense of which way the wind is blowing on important issues. The reader response feature gives the blog an added value as a launching point for deeper discussion or debate.
How widespread is administrative blogging? If you write a regular blog, or know of one, please send me a note at the address below and tell me. We'll pass on the information in a "blog directory." Let's see how communication can improve on campus--and between institutions.
Write to Tim Goral at firstname.lastname@example.org.