Thursday, June 12, 2008

Blogging is more than its own reward

by J J Cohen

No, that title is not one of my patented pseudomaxims. Blogging is in part its own reward: for me, the composition of a post and the conversation that follows are inherently enjoyable. Yet more tangible rewards exist as well: the ability to reach a greater audience than publication in a scholarly journal allows, for example, as well as the speed of dissemination (instantaneous!), the rapidity of feedback, the possibility of mutual transformation through dialogue. All of these are real consequences of blogging.

Those of you who follow the links we place to other blogs at right, or who have received an email from me and followed the link at its bottom, may have discovered already that I run a second blog, one devoted to the English Department I chair. The blog was started to give students and alumni a better sense of connection to the department, mainly by letting them know what an intellectually vibrant community we have formed. A perennial problem for us had been that with 400 majors and an uncountable number of departmental graduates, we possessed no easy or affordable way to disseminate news about who are and what we accomplish. The blog solved that problem quite efficiently (and cheaply). Although I didn't realize it at first, this better sense of connection also resulted in some generosity by students and alumni who approve of and are happy to support our mission.

We made a big announcement on our blog yesterday. That gift -- so far as I know, the largest ever given to the humanities at GW -- is a direct result of our having made our department's needs and ambitions known via our departmental blog. To date GW English News has had a hand in something like $732, 500 in actual or pledged gifts. The largest donations were given for very specific projects, and one gift makes up the bulk of what we've received -- but still, included in that figure is a future bequest promised for $30,000, and about $2,000 from alumni who have made donations directly to the department (instead of to the university itself, where for all I know the money would vanish into our enormous real estate debt). These amounts are quite extraordinary considering that annual giving to my department about a year ago totaled about $225 -- and that was a good year. Let me also stress that despite GW's reputation as an extremely expensive institution, the operating budget allocated to English is so meager that we can barely pay for our faculty travel obligations and the copier lease. The departmental budget has also not been increased in more than a decade. We've been extremely creative with the funds we are allocated, but we often push against our own fiscal limitations. I realized early in my tenure as chair that the institution wasn't likely to support many of our ambitions with actual cash, hence the fundraising.

Who knew that a blog could have a $732, 500 pay off? Now if only we could start to get some cash flowing into the In the Middle coffers .... then again, the Tiny Shriner would probably embezzle those funds and spend them on loose living.


Eileen Joy said...

Congratulations, Jeffrey. What a wonderful boon to the English Department at GWU. I am currently prevailing on the patriarch of a Polynesian family that made its fortune in ginger snaps to donate one million dollars to In The Middle. I will let you know how that goes after the canoe trip and ginger beer drinking contest.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Please let the Polynesian Ginger Patriarch know that we are willing to dub ginger the official spice of In the Middle. As to the ginger beer drinking contest ... do be careful, as that stuff can result in atrociously bad gas when imbibed in large quantities.