Archive for the ‘blogging’ category

The Last Post

April 30, 2019

Nearly eleven years ago, in June 2008, I published my first post on this blog. Just a little earlier I had joined Facebook and Bebo (remember that?), and I was about to join Twitter. I was at the time President of Dublin City University, and I had become convinced that university heads needed to be more visible to those whose lives they affected, whether faculty or students. They should come clean about their views so that these could be challenged or discussed, and indeed so that there could be conversation and debate about the strategic educational, cultural and social role of the university and the wider sector.

So here we are, then – 2,318 posts and some one-and-a-quarter million views later, and I’m trying to figure out how much of it ever mattered. Well, nothing in this blog changed the world, and I’m afraid it didn’t start a trend. Some university heads now use social media (and many of these use it more wisely than I did), but few present their views in detail and invite comment, which is what I hoped might follow. But if it didn’t change the world, it did get noticed: over these 11 years this blog has been quoted in newspapers and magazines around the world, in at least 12 countries. And as is absolutely appropriate, it has been criticised here and there, with someone quite reasonably suggesting that it was all ‘unbelievable drivel’ written by someone with an ‘incredible ego’. Who could argue with that?

Well, you may have noticed that I have framed all this in the past tense – this will be the last post. I retired from university leadership eight months ago, and what I might say now would be increasingly uninformed. There are other interests and goals that I am now pursuing, and while I will continue to watch what happens in higher education (and may occasionally tweet), it seems a little silly to think that I have something especially valuable to say about it. So there will be no new posts published here, though the blog, as long as WordPress continues, will remain online.

I am grateful to the unexpectedly large number of people who have read this blog or subscribed to it, and to those who occasionally wrote guest posts for it. I am grateful to the many people who wrote comments – over 16,000 comments were contributed. I have learnt from these and occasionally changed decisions on the basis of comments here that had persuaded me. I am more grateful still to the many women and men who work in higher education, as students, teachers, scholars, information professionals, support workers, technicians and others. I have noted from time to time that most of these people do not get the credit they deserve, and unfortunately they often do not get the support and security that reinforces integrity and freedom.

I may, in time, reach for my pen (or my keyboard) to start another blog; but if I do it will be on topics other than higher education. But as I leave this blog behind, here are my hopes for universities and the higher education community: that there will be a greater appreciation of the value of our institutions; that they will have access to the resources that will sustain scholarship and learning; that people studying and working in higher education will be given the respect and working conditions that is their due; that there will be no abuse of power or bullying in future; that no one will ever again feel abandoned and lost in the system to the extent that they despair of life; that scholars will continue to change the world with their discoveries and critiques; that universities will engage still more with the wider communities that they serve; that university leaders exercise (perhaps to a greater extent than I always did) a degree of humility and recognise the value of collegiality.

When I demitted office as President of Dublin City University in July 2010, I said in my farewell address to the DCU community that, in the end, we manage best when we remain optimistic. So that is my parting wish to all of you who engage in higher education: that you will always end up believing that the values of higher education will win. We have to believe that.

This blog’s commentariat

December 24, 2014

WordPress tells me that exactly 15,000 comments have now been posted on this site in response to the blog posts themselves. That means, dear readers, that you have written some 750,000 words on these pages, amounting to nearly 10 decent-sized books.

Thank you, and congratulations, and happy Christmas!

Spamming the blog fastidiously

August 20, 2013

As I have mentioned before, this blog receives about a dozen or two spam comments every day, most of them filtered out by the spam service of WordPress. Occasionally I check the quarantine folder to make sure no comments have been caught there that were actually legitimate.

One thing that strikes me in reading the spam comments is that many of them use very curious language. I am not commenting on the quality of their English: some of the spammers come from various overseas countries. But there is a pattern of expression that I find interesting. So for example, most spammers call this a ‘weblog’ rather than a ‘blog’ – which is notionally correct but strange. Less correct is the very frequent use by spammers of the word ‘fastidious’. Just today one urged me to ‘keep up the fastidious work.’ That does have a meaning, but probably not what he thought. And a total of 28 spammers have used ‘fastidious’ in their bogus comments over the past week.

Is there some spammers’ glossary that they use, designed to persuade filter systems that the comment is genuine? But why would it contain ‘fastidious’?

Just wondering.

Insulting spam

April 3, 2013

WordPress, the host site for this blog, tells me that its software has removed a total of 150,858 spam comments from the posts here. That means that spam comments account for over 90 per cent of all comments submitted. Mostly these are attempts to get the reader (if it got as far as the reader) to click on various commercial (and sometimes unsavoury) links, obscured by text that typically purports to praise the quality of the blog, often in incomprehensible ways (not helped, I suspect, by computer translation); as in this case:

‘Nice answers in return of this issue with firm arguments and describing all about that.’

Sure. But sometimes you get something different, and today an enterprising spammer decided that insulting me might pay dividends. This was his attempted comment:

‘The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually believed you would have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you weren’t too busy looking for attention.’

Ah, who knows, maybe he’s right. He wants you to click on the site of an online therapist, by the way.

The un-networked internet

January 8, 2013

Here’s an interesting – and crazy – development. If you were to scroll through the posts in this blog, you would find that in many of them I have linked to newspaper reports relevant to the topic. What I didn’t know is that my doing so may have exposed me to a very significant financial risk. Why? Because the newspapers, in Ireland at least, have decided that they own the copyright to the URLs of any articles or items in their publications, and that they are entitled to charge anyone who publishes the URL. Let me be quite specific: this is not about an unauthorised reproduction of a newspaper article or any part of it; this is about mentioning the URL link only.

So for example, yesterday morning one Irish newspaper published a report on a heatwave in Australia. If you want to read about it – or since we have Australian readers here, if you want to verify its accuracy – you can find it right here. Go and have a look. But because I have just given you the link, I have, apparently, infringed that newspaper’s copyright and am now liable to be sued. More particularly, they may claim I should pay them €300 for providing the link. How do I know all this? Because the body representing Irish newspapers, National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), recently decided to take action against the charity Women’s Aid (of all people) because the latter had on their website linked to newspaper articles about them. Thankfully the charity is being supported in its defence pro bono by Dublin solicitor Simon McGarr.

If you think this is mad, then you are absolutely right. If we all have a copyright to URLs of sites we control – and it’s not just newspapers, obviously, who have websites – and if we can prevent others from mentioning these URLs by demanding stupid money before allowing them to do so, then we can bring the whole internet crashing down. The URL link is the heart of the world wide web; take it away, and there’s nothing left. This could become a particular issue in the academic world, in which the free exchange of internet links has become an important tool.

For the record, NNI have claimed that they would only want to prevent the commercial use of such links, but that’s nonsense because their chosen target, Women’s Aid, clearly was not in the business of commercial gain; and the charity did not reproduce any of the content of these newspaper articles, just the URL. NNI say they have no objection to the ‘personal’ use of internet links, but what on earth does that mean? Is my blog post here ‘personal’?  In any case, on what basis would anyone think that they owned a copyright to a URL? Or do I also have rights in relation to my postal address? Can I charge anyone who lists my address for whatever purpose, or indeed those who put it on an envelope? Or can I charge anyone who sends me an email for using my email address without my permission?

Of course, maybe I’m going at this the wrong way. I’ve just calculated that there have been, since June 2008, just under 6,000 links on other websites to this blog. Should I perhaps be writing out bills to the tune of €1.8 million? And by the way, roughly €7,000 worth of those bills would be going to newspapers who linked to my blog, in the run of their commercial business.

I am a genuine supporter of the quality Irish press, who do a great job and maintain some really good newspapers. But this particular move is beyond silly.


October 27, 2011

This blog is now nearly three and a half years old, and has attracted over a million hits. During that time I have published 1,802 posts, and readers have made 12,580 comments on these posts. Something new has been published here pretty much every day since June 2008.

It may be time for a change of pace, or else I shall have published every thought in my head, however vacuous. I have therefore decided that, for now, I shall only publish a post once a week, on Tuesday mornings. If something startling happens on other days about which I feel moved to comment, then there may be additional posts on those days. I may also from time to time publish links to news items or comments elsewhere that may be of interest to readers. So keep looking in…

This space does in any case remain open to all, and if any reader would like to share (non-libellous) pieces here, then I shall be happy to publish them, on any day of the week.

Many thanks to all of you for your attention, which I genuinely appreciate and value.

Exit strategy

February 26, 2011

Next Tuesday, I shall be embarking upon my last month (at least for the time being) as a full-time resident in Ireland. In a few weeks I shall be taking up my post as Principal of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. I shall maintain a base in Ireland and will visit regularly, but inevitable I shall be less informed and my more immediate interests will focus mainly on Scotland.

It is my intention that this blog will continue, but if it is to maintain a significant Irish higher education dimension (alongside the Scottish one that will now be developed) I shall require help. I am hoping that there may be a reader or two here who will be willing to assemble Irish stories and comment for the blog from April 2011. I shall also be inviting guest bloggers who will contribute from time to time. Some posts from other parts of the world will also be welcome from time to time, and those interested in contributing should let me know.

If any reader is interested in joining the team that will, I hope, be running this blog, please contact me at

Happy Christmas!

December 24, 2010

May I wish all readers of this blog a peaceful and happy Christmas, and a New Year with promise and fulfilment. My warm thanks to all of you for being here, and a special thanks to those who enrich the blog with their comments – which I always appreciate.

Herbert Park, Dublin, on Christmas Eve

Blog management

December 15, 2010

i hope that readers of this blog will believe me when I say that I strongly believe in the free expression of opinions and abhor censorship. It was always my hope that all shades of opinion would be welcome here and that it would never be necessary for me to restrict comments in any way.

Sadly this has not proved possible and today I have had to restrict the ability of one reader to make comments. I feel that in some respects this represents a failure on my part, and I apologize for it. I felt I had to take this step as other readers were telling me they now felt intimidated from posting.

I hope that readers will understand this regrettable step.

Presidential blogs

December 13, 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 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.