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The Phantom Professor

Another catchup…The Chron reports on the Phantom Professor, a formerly-anonymous blogger who wrote in rather unflattering tones about her experiences teaching at SMU.

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.

I sympathize, but it’s been known for a long time that blogging about work can get you fired. However good the stories are, the precedent is pretty firmly set. It may be unfair, and it may be ironic in this case, but it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Do I think she violated some kind of confidentiality rule with her blog? I can’t speak from any experience – I wasn’t the confide-to-a-professor kind of student. I think one is always on shaky ground when gossiping – and let’s face it, this was gossip. Good gossip, perhaps, even book-worthy gossip, but gossip nonetheless. Far as I know, the only real defense when caught out as the town’s unofficial news source is to smile wanly, shrug your shoulders, and (depending on who’s doing the catching-out) either remain quiet or offer an exlcusive for the next time.

Anyway. This DMN story from two weeks ago confirmed her identity and her contract non-renewal. AS noted, Professor Liner has done pretty well for herself since then, so no tears need be shed. One piece of advice for you in case you read this, Professor: Blog about the book tour. Publishers love sequels. No need to use a pseudonym, we already know who the author will be.

UPDATE: Jack doesn’t think much of Professor Liner.

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  1. Brenda Helverson says:

    SMU: Smothered, Mothered, and Uneducated.

    Alt: Send Money. Urgent.

    And yes, we do expect a higher standard from any reputable school with the word “Methodist” in its name. SMU clearly retaliated by firing Ms. Liner and they should be ashamed.

  2. Buhallin says:

    I actually don’t think it’s wrong that the school fired her. While I’m a big believer in academic freedom, this had nothing to do with academics. Professors are supposed to be leaders, and she obviously was quite the opposite.

    I do find some of the “Ooh, the poor babies!” attitude towards the students with hurt feelings a bit sickening, though. I was on the receiving end of some rich-kid games when I was younger, and believe me, just about anything she could have come up with is far less than what they do to each other on a daily basis. Any hurt feelings are undoubtedly played up for the thrill of getting a prof fired.

  3. Jeb says:

    This woman taught Ethics?

  4. sarah says:

    In the public relations department… 🙂

  5. 'stina says:

    If she’s talking about indentifiable students, she may have a FERPA issue.

    I’m sympathetic but not impressed.