Habits of Public Writing : Opening a Space for Thinking Along the Way

Written by: Christopher Long

Primary Source : Christopher P. Long Blog, December 6, 2015

This post on Medium initiates an experiment in public writing designed to facilitate transparency and refine my thinking in relation to issues I face in my role as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University.

I welcome engagement here on the Long Road or there on Medium.

When I write regularly, I think I’m a better administrator — probably a better husband and father, certainly a better scholar.

Writing affords me an opportunity to slow down and reflect, to craft a thought or articulate an idea. It gives me pause, and it opens a space for me to think holistically and strategically. Writing pulls me out of the busy-ness that captures so much of the time each day.

In a scholarly context, I have long understood that my own position only really emerges when I begin to write in earnest. Prior to that, I am a gatherer. My mind is open to possibilities and widely varying interpretations — or it is at least on my good days.

But writing brings things into focus.

Of course, as Socrates famously reminds Phaedrus, writing also has a tendency to calcify ideas. If in writing, my position finds its voice, in writing too, that voice becomes inert.

Yet, the affordances of digital modes of public writing can breathe life into those ideas that, in being written, too easily calcify into doctrine.

In my role as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, I am all too aware of how my words are parsed each day, as colleagues attempt to discern what my position is and where they stand in relation to it.

We have, of course, many ways of communicating with a variety of different audiences associated with the College. The good work of Ryan Kilcoyne and his communication team ensure that the material we share publicly is carefully crafted and strategically designed. Our blog, the Long View, enables us to highlight and share more fully polished ideas and initiatives.

But what I am missing is a way to think out loud without each word being received as College doctrine, as The Position of the Dean. What I hope to open here on @Medium is a space in which to cultivate the habit of reflective writing along the way, even in the messiness of the everyday work of being a Dean at a major research university.

So, to begin, let’s agree, that if you read it here, it is unfinished. If it is written here, it is open to revision. And if you are interested in helping to shape the thinking you encounter here, you are invited to comment and to lend your voice in writing to what I write here.

So with more than a little trepidation, and with some concern that I will now have publicly committed to do something I am ultimately unable to accomplish, I’d like to try to use @Medium as a platform for this sort of public reflective writing along the way.

I welcome fellow travelers in this endeavor, but I ask for your patience and generosity. This is an experiment, an attempt to write publicly in a way that will help me continue to focus on what is most important to me: to cultivate a culture of excellence in the College of Arts and Letters, to embody dialogical transparency, and to live out a commitment to the transformative power of education.

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Christopher P. Long is dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University. His extensive publications in Ancient Greek and Contemporary Continental Philosophy include three books: The Ethics of Ontology: Rethinking an Aristotelian Legacy (SUNY 2004), Aristotle On the Nature of Truth (Cambridge 2010), and an enhanced digital book entitled, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading (Cambridge 2014). The digital platform of the enhanced digital book enables readers to engage directly with the author in an online community. He is also co-founder of the Public Philosophy Journal, a project that has received over $780,000 of funding from the Mellon Foundation to create an innovative online space of digital scholarship and communication. To learn more about his administrative approach and his recent research in Philosophy, digital scholarly communication, and the educational use of social media technologies, visit his blog: www.cplong.org. He is the host of the Digital Dialogue podcast (thedigitaldialogue.com) and can be reached on Twitter @cplong and @deancplong.