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What Is a ‘Serious Academic’? Social-Media Critique Provokes a Backlash

“I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer,” read the headline of an anonymous article in The Guardian on Friday. Embracing social media, as many academics are encouraged to do, amounts to little more than a dog-and-pony show, the author writes, and is more about demonstrating an exaggerated enthusiasm than anything else.

“I do not — and should not — have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher,” the author writes. “Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?”

The piece stirred an outcry on — where else? — social media, where academics criticized the article as out of touch and ignorant of the value of media outside the mainstream.

K.T. Ewing, an assistant professor of history at Tennessee State University, assailed the article as dismissive of an entire community of scholars who don’t fit the profile of the “serious academic,” which has racial connotations. (Read her entire thread here.)

The Guardian also published a satirical takedown of the article. In it, Dean Burnett cites social media’s ability to empower academics who don’t fit traditional profiles.

Mocking the original author, he concludes: “Why can’t I just do my job and rely on everyone else recognising my brilliance and rewarding me in a manner that I feel I deserve? What’s the point of academia if it doesn’t conform to my own specific preferences?”

View the hashtag #SeriousAcademic.

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