David Dobkin is a busy man. As Dean of the Faculty, he supervises the hiring and tenuring of professors, and oversees each academic department on campus. A former computer science professor, Dobkin has also found time to teach a freshman seminar, and he serves as a JP advisor. But no matter how full his day becomes, Dobkin never neglects his side job: faculty photoblogger.
Dobkin created his running photoblog, aptly named “Pictures from the Job,” when he joined the administration four years ago. The site features pictures of professors and students and gives a day-by-day pictorial account of the people he meets. Dobkin—his thick gray beard, bald head and brown-rimmed glasses making him one of the more recognizable faculty members—appears in many of the photos himself. He’s definitely not your traditional faculty blogger. While other professors write on subjects relating to their fields, Dobkin is the faculty’s only blogger whose site is devoted exclusively to photographs documenting his life on campus. The site, clearly, is very rare for such an important faculty member, and it seems to give students an unparalleled look into an administrator’s life on the job. Yet while the pictures on Dobkin’s blog seem to make him the most transparent member of Nassau Hall, the site, frustratingly, doesn’t give any information or insight into what it is Dobkin actually does. The way Dobkin collects his photographs is quite simple: after every lunch he organizes (which, as Faculty Dean, he frequently does), during any celebration he attends or simply when he runs into someone he knows, he snaps a few pictures of the people he sees. “When people come into my office, I take out my camera, and I ask, Do you mind if I take your picture?” he says matter-of-factly. (When I met with him in his Nassau Hall office, he asked me the same thing; my picture should appear in the April 9 section of the site.) The photographs are all similar, with shots of faculty members posing alone at their desks or together after a meeting being the norm, yet they are incredibly far-reaching. The archive is loaded with snapshots of hundreds of faculty members: everyone from Shirley Tilghman to Frank Farkas, repairman of the clock that sits in the corner of Dobkin’s office, is featured. (Some faculty members have requested that their pictures be taken down, and he has obliged.) “I’ve had digital cameras for a long time,” he says. “When I came into this job, I just started to record things,” and he has done so ever since, to the point that upkeep of the blog has gotten “a little bit out of control.” As diverting as surfing through the site can be, its purpose isn’t so clear. Many of the pictures seem to be of amused yet confused faculty members. The photos aren’t terribly artful, nor are they particularly candid. Also, Dobkin never describes what is happening in the photos; he only includes names and departments. Look at June 6, 2006, and you’ll find a picture of Paul Muldoon with Seamus Heaney and Heaney’s partner; May 26 of that year shows Dobkin with his partner and Toni Morrison; and June 28, 2005, strangely enough, shows a picture of an FBI agent. But he doesn’t explain any of this. We don’t know what he’s celebrating with Morrison, or why he is meeting with an FBI agent. The site, then, is no more than a private photo album revealed to the public, something that one would normally share with family members and colleagues, not with the whole school. Yet Dobkin’s blog “serves a real purpose,” he says, sitting in his Nassau Hall office in-between meetings. While, to others, the site may seem like it would be more fitting as a personal photo album, he believes that it actually benefits the larger community. “I meet a lot of people,” he says, “and I’ll want to keep track of who’s who. And other people around the university have told me they use it for that purpose, too.” This much is true. You can see the people Dobkin has met every day for the past four years, and a calendar, with every month serving as a link to more pictures, appears on his homepage, making searches for faculty members much easier. But it is unclear if Dobkin’s site benefits the community as fully as a dean’s blog could. Clearly, unlike Anne-Marie Slaughter and many other faculty members who blog, Dobkin has chosen not to let his site be a forum for his opinions or viewer comments. But with the site prominently displayed on the Faculty Blogs page, Dobkin, one of the more powerful faculty members, has an opportunity to be truly transparent and let students know exactly what is happening in the pictures. But Dobkin doesn’t think his site should be used that way. Instead, it serves its best purpose as an expansive public album, open to interested visitors. “We all know Shirley Tilghman,” he says, “but if you’re curious about what a professor in a certain department looks like, I might have the only available picture. There’s something to be said for that.”