Monday, May 30, 2005

SMU lecturer takes heat for telling blog

HoustonChronicle reports For most of the past two semesters, nobody knew the identity of "The Phantom Professor." The educator's anonymous Web log, set at an unnamed university "in the South," spun tales of spoiled-rich "Ashleys" with their $500 sandals and $1,500 handbags, eating disorders, plagiarism and drug use, legal and illegal. "At this school it seems like every kid is on multiple medications," the professor wrote, describing her charges as "barely literate," prone to emotional problems and "terrified of displeasing Mommy and Daddy." Surrounded by students sporting French manicures and plans for spring break in Cabo, the blog's author told stories like the one about "a certain member of a Middle Eastern royal family who got a new Mercedes by convincing a frat buddy to crash his one-year-old model into a wall" or how one stall in a certain ladies room was known as "the purge-atory."

No names were used, but this spring at Southern Methodist University, students and faculty began recognizing themselves in the phantom's prose. A student in SMU's corporate communications and public affairs department discovered the blog had quoted the content of e-mail she had sent to one of her teachers. It called her "clueless." An assistant professor had no trouble identifying herself in another short posting about a faculty member who was "fresh from a mediocre Midwestern University with a Ph.D. in something no one cares about." Earlier this month, Elaine Liner, an adjunct professor who taught writing and ethics classes in SMU's public relations department since 2001, revealed in an online publication that the blog was hers. Liner, who writes freelance theater reviews for a Dallas weekly, also let it be known that in late March she was told her contract to teach at the school would not be renewed. "One of the ironies of this is that I worked in a building that had the First Amendment carved in stone across its front," Liner said in an interview last week. She said she is certain she was let go because of her blog. "I can't arrive at any other conclusion," said Liner, who was paid $18,000 a year, no benefits, to teach two classes for three semesters.

$18,000 and no benefits is not much of a salary in Dallas. I suspect Liner can get a better job elsewhere.

Jack Cluth blogged It’s one of the great things about weblogs- having a forum where you can say what you want about whom you want in whatever way you want. Of course, some of us find out the hard way that words have meaning and often consequences. Being able to say what you want about whomever you choose is not always the perfect freedom that one might think it is.

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