Frances Rosenbluth, a member of the search committee for the professorship, said the committee considered only [Cole’s] scholarly writing—not his blog or his political views—when they named him a finalist for the slot.
They must have ended up reading a lot of older material. Cole has been blogging for four years. Just before he started blogging, he finished up a collection of recycled essays. His last original book-length work, on Baha’i history, appeared in 1998. As I wrote in February, “Cole has turned into a journalist. Academics would be right to wonder how anyone can blog with this intensity and still produce any sustained scholarship. I certainly wonder, and I say that as an academic blogger of long standing. The price of blogging is paid in scholarship.”
Or is it? Nikki Keddie, professor emerita at UCLA and a mentor of Cole’s over several decades, saw what I wrote, and got all indignant. She posted a testimonial to Cole’s scholarship, which she capped with this revelation:
He is planning to use his extensive contemporary research, reflected in his blog, for another book.
Well! You thought he was just blogging like the rest of us. You thought he was just trawling the web and reading the papers. But not Juan Cole! He was really in the midst of four years of “extensive contemporary research”! This journey has taken him deep inside contemporary Iraq (without actually going there), and through the Washington labyrinth of the neocons and Likudniks (without actually meeting one). At some point (after how many more years?), this research, now merely “reflected” in his blog, will yield… a book! A nugget of scholarship! Something to set alongside the hundreds of books about Iraq, terrorism, and the Middle East that have been conceived, researched, written, and published since Cole became a blogger.
I’m not holding my breath. But let’s assume that Cole’s blog is a kind of rough draft of his next book. Then its controversial content is a legitimate issue that Yale should consider in weighing his candidacy. When the University of Michigan tenured Cole, it could claim to do so strictly on the basis of his refereed writing. But Yale would be foolish to put on blinders and completely disregard Cole’s writing over the past four years, the vast bulk of which is self-published. Indeed, if Keddie’s claim about Cole’s blog is true—that it’s a book-in-progress—ignoring it would be downright irresponsible. What it says about Cole’s politics should be irrelevant. What it says about his professional competence and judgment should be crucial.