Presidential blogs

As many readers of this blog know, I started writing it when I was still President of Dublin City University. The first post was published on June 5, 2008. Over the following 24 hours 2 people read the post, and nobody commented. In fact, only 11 people read the blog during the first week of its life. After that I started alerting people including DCU staff, and numbers grew (though not anything close to current levels). At the time I had a vague idea that I would use it to communicate with my staff in DCU, give them an idea of what I was up to and what I was thinking about, and give them an opportunity to comment if they wished.

Projects often have a life of their own. On a Friday the 13th (June 2008), the Irish Times ran an article on the blog, and that day I had 253 readers. It is a significant multiple of that now, and the blog has long ceased to be focused specifically on DCU. There are many readers from (as far as I can tell) all over the world, and not all of them are in, or even have a connection with, higher education.

I am not alone as a university president blogger, though it is not a large community. In these islands, as far as I am aware, there are two other presidential bloggers: the Vice-Chancellor of Salford University, and the President of Athlone Institute of Technology. Salford’s VC publishes posts once a week, whereas the Athlone President’s posts are more sporadic. In both cases there are not very many readers’ comments.

I am not aware of any other blogs in these islands, but in Australia there is the always interesting (and sometimes controversial) Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University. His topics are topical and eclectic. There are usually some comments, but apparently we get to read only some of them:

‘This blog is moderated because not all comments submitted are publishable – over 254 posts since 2007 we have received more than 4,000 comments, many of which have been rejected because they are variously defamatory, obscene, unintelligible, disguised spam, ad hominem attacks or off topic. Some also are of such a technical nature that they would be best communicated in, say, direct emails to the VC’s office.’

In the United States there are many presidents who blog. In most cases, such as this one, the purpose of the blog appears largely to be the dissemination of university news and announcements. Others may be more discursive, but even then (as here) comments are often not invited.

There are some risks you run as a blogging president: the ‘foot in mouth’ risk – i.e. that you’ll say things you really shouldn’t say, even if it’s true; the ‘boredom’ risk – i.e. that everyone quickly discovers that you really don’t have much to say and drift away; the ‘it’s running away with me risk’ – i.e. that you become so engrossed in it that it takes up time that should be spent on other things; the ‘audience’ risk – i.e. that the readership of the blog grows beyond academic circles, and that you don’t really know how to address them coherently;  or the ‘nobody is listening’ risk – i.e. that you set out boldly to find that nobody is following,m and that you have few readers.

What, in my view, is the secret of success? Actually, I am totally clear in my mind on this: the difference between a dull blog and a fascinating one is the quality of the participation. Comments posted on the blog prove someone is engaged by it, and this makes all the difference. Academic discourse should be participative. To achieve such participation, you need to show that you welcome it, and you need to address topics that generate a bit of heat from time to time.

My view of presidential blogging, after two and a half years of experience, is that it is an amazingly useful tool if handled right. I have no regrets (yet…) about going down this path.

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21 Comments on “Presidential blogs”

  1. Vincent Says:

    This has the tenor of a swan-song. Are you planning to pick up your wordpress and walking.
    It would be a pity if you did. I was truly looking forward to reading how you stood up to Arctic latitudes.

  2. Fred Says:

    Ferdinand I assume we will be here for the days to come. However, it would be useful to see your views when you move to Scotland. The first few months would be more than interesting.

    Have a look:

  3. anna notaro Says:

    What is the secret of a successful blog is an intriguing question. A few years ago a short article discussed the emerging phenomenon of blogs by academic (blogademia)at
    For me the academic blogger is a public intellectual who regularly engages others both within and beyond academia, always at the leading edge of discussions of emerging intersections of technology,culture & politics, striking the right balance between the academic and the personal. The blogosphere is a new, albeit revisited, public sphere (in the Habermas sense)
    a very powerful tool for everybody who still believe in the value of publicness and in an ‘organic’ form of intellectualism (Gramsci) …

  4. Kieran Says:

    Dear Ferdinand,

    A short note to say that I enjoy my Monday morning dose of University Digest over coffee before my working week begins. Your blog is a very nice way to start the week off.

    You’re quite right in saying that you have an international following. I left for Canada from Dublin four years ago, and enjoy keeping up to date on your observations. In this note, i’d just like to ask you to keep up the good work as yours is always an interesting read. I believe, however, that participation from your audience aside, what makes your blog a good read is that it is frank, honest, doesn’t exaggerate, well informed and personal.

    I hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! All the best for 2011.


  5. Elaine Says:

    I appreciate the blog. I moved back to Ireland this year after 15 year in the States, 10 of which I worked in US higher education. I’ve learned a lot about Irish higher ed. from reading this blog over the past couple of months. Thanks for it and for the opportunity to dialogue.

  6. copernicus Says:

    First about blogs

    The previous Ariana Stassinopoulos (as she was, when she was in London in 1970s) and now Ariana Huffington after she moved to USA, successfully runs “Huffington Post” which is a political news Obama-supporting liberal blog. But there are good posts from distinguished people in politics and other areas. It is By far the most successful news -related blog that I know.

    What about presidents/VCs writing in blogs?

    I have talked to many VCs and presidents including a few in USA. The RG VCs with whom I talked to would rather leave this to others in the universities as they say they are very busy. Also, they think that such blogs are best run by others in faculties. A few new university VCs said to me that they had already too may problems on their plates, and do not want to create a few more self-inflicted wounds, through their blogs,in these days of HE in a flux. In all new universities,the VCs have to tread carefully, as the governors and chairs of governors although saying that they leave the academic and other related matters to the VCs, nevertheless keep very watchful eyes on what the VCs say. The governance is tighter here as compared to say RG.

    One Australian VC, Scott Bowman blogs almost frequently: This person was an academic in radiography in London South Bank University, and now the VC of CQU, some progression from radiographer to VC!!

  7. Perry Share Says:

    I would have to say that my level of appreciation of the blog is starting to decline, as the focus is shifting from Ireland towards the UK, and is becoming dominated by tedious and extremely lengthy discussions about the Russell Group, post-1992 universities, the politics of various UK and US news media, and various other hobby horses (not that I don’t ride a few of my own).

    I think there are still numerous issues to discuss in relation to Irish tertiary eduction, and related issues such as proposed fees; teaching and learning issues; investment in research; structures and policies. But I’m seeing less of that here, and a dearth of suggested concrete options, as opposed to endless critique.

    Is there a way to focus people’s energies into some sort of constructive movement for change, at this time when some genuinely new thinking is required?

    • copernicus Says:

      Blogs are like that, responses to the blog leader’s topics and postings. If you want to control the parameters start a blog of your own, focusing only on Ireland. Some of what you want to discuss sounds like the issues for your union meetings and articles.

      • Perry Share Says:

        Fair enough. No doubt the blog will change as its owner’s interests change, and it will no doubt attract a new audience. But it has served a useful function as a place to discuss issues (amongst many other things) related to Irish education. As far as I can see that capacity is diminishing. So, people will probably have to go here instead, though visually it’s a nightmare!

      • copernicus Says:

        There is a blog provided by THE in England, which attracts HE interests, and I cannot see another player in this patch.

    • Well Perry, to be fair, there are as many posts on Irish HE now as there always were, and they still form the overwhelming bulk of all that is written by me here. The UK/Scottish posts are additional in number, they haven’t displaced anything Irish.

      I am currently considering what to do with this blog. As I indicated in this post, it became something rather more than a DCU notice board, and took on the role really of a discussion forum on HE in general, and Irish HE in particular. Right now I have more time than I used to have and am able to add to the number of postings. That will not be the case after March, and moreover I won’t be as directly in touch with Ireland.

      So I am thinking about what to do. I would like the blog to continue, but am interested in turning it into a collective effort in which there will be several posters, moderators etc, preferably with different backgrounds and perspectives. It would probably have three ‘sections’, one focusing on Irish HE, one on the UK, and one on elsewhere and other topics.

      I’ve asked this before, but I am open to volunteers who might want to become co-owners of this blog. It has a high level of prominence. If you google the words ‘university blog’ this is what comes up first.

      • Perry Share Says:

        I’ve probably been a bit irritated by a couple of particularly intense exchanges that, to be fair, seemed to annoy some others too. But it will be good to see it continue in some form.

        What would be very interesting, and productive, would be if the blog could also lead to some collaborative thinking as to the way forward, perhaps through the use of a wiki or some other collaborative software, linked in some way to the blog itself.

        Why should we wait for others to determine the future of 3rd level in Ireland? Is there not a way that the many good minds and breadth of international experience of those who participate here could start to map out a future direction, rather than always having to be reactive? Or is academia too individualistic for that?

      • copernicus Says:


        I Googled ” university blog”. The following came up:

        1. Google: “university blog”
         TheUniversityBlog | Life doesn’t stop when you study.
        19 Nov 2010 … What can a university do to help you minimise risks after you graduate? And how can they help you minimise risks in terms of what you study …
         Science Blog – University of Oxford
        About this blog. Gives you the inside track on science at Oxford University: the projects, the people and what’s happening behind the scenes. …
         University of Aberdeen Blog
        As avid readers of this blog will know the University of Aberdeen held its annual Open Day on Tuesday, 31st August. With well over 6000 visitors it is the …
         University of Leeds UCU – Blog
        10 Dec 2010 … Last week, a scheduled class test for a 20 credit compulsory module in the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds … –
         Warwick Blogs
        Warwick Blogs · Blog directory | · Prompts | · Sign in. About Warwick Blogs. Sign up for a blog · More about blogs · FAQs & help · Terms & conditions … – Cached – Similar

        2 I Googled: “University blog, Ferdinand”, yours was the first hit.

         University Blog
        13 Dec 2010 … As many readers of this blog know, I started writing it when I was still President of Dublin City University. The first post was published … –

         Hi! I’m Ferdinand « University Blog
        15 Jan 2009 … I’m Ferdinand. A little while ago I was hosting some visitors from a German university. I explained our teaching and our research strategy, …
         University Blog written by Ferdinand von Prondzynski,
        You are here: ILTA Community Contribute Submit/Edit News Feeds University Blog written by Ferdinand von Prondzynski,. University Blog written by Ferdinand ……university-blog…ferdinand...

      • copernicus Says:


        First, I googled” university blog” , yours did not come first. I have produced the snap shot in a post below.

        Second: “it would probably have three ‘sections’, …… one on the UK”

        Which part of UK, and which pertaining which university group? Although, Wales, England and NI have tuition fees for example, the current fee rise voting has changed everything, and this together with not supporting humanities in England (Wales and NI have different ideas, as also the level of fees etc..), puts the three in different footings. Then Scotland, not much in common with either NI and Wales in the new scenario.

  8. cormac Says:

    Yes, I envy you the comments! Many science blogs get a large number of hits but very few comments…I suppose its something to do with the technical nature of the topics

  9. copernicus Says:

    Should be ” snap shot above”

  10. anna notaro Says:

    for the record, if one googles ‘university diary’ it comes 4th…a blog can certainly become more of a collective effort, this is not unusual, bit concerned about the excessive fragmentation though…personally I have learnt a lot about the Irish context even though I am not based there and this is part of the point of having a general ‘public’ in which to discuss HE matters and not just..

  11. copernicus Says:

    Too much hype about these blogs. The threads in THE touches most matters concerning English HE.

  12. copernicus Says:

    Too much hype about these blogs. The threads in THE touch most matters concerning English HE.

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