With this week’s unmasking of Johnny Quest, the notorious blogger who wrote sarcastically about the Greek community, our campus lost one of its newest icons and also one of its most critical voices.

Although his conduct was childish at times, Quest’s blog posts added a valuable critique of campus culture. Campus communities and groups lack constructive external criticism, a valuable tool to improve organizations. Our campus could use more voices like Johnny’s.

Quest was useful to campus because he brought freshness and consistency to the infrequent and usually mundane criticisms leveled against campus groups. He was a muckraker who ruffled feathers, was unafraid to be candid and was undeterred by political correctness. He was sarcastic without being an extremist. More important, his blog posts were more like a conversation that prompted many dissenters to disagree freely, which they did, rather than a lecture. Quest’s writing was a quasi-exercise in organizational evaluation and encouraged critical thinking and argument.

There are many campus communities that would be better understood with more exposure. Quest penetrated one such community and at least temporarily provided some explanations about its workings. With his critical, challenging opinions, Quest provided insights that many others would be afraid to share. His contribution was valuable, even if it skirted pleasantries and went straight to the bad and ugly.

In addition to providing insight into campus culture, Quest’s criticisms provided fodder for organizational improvement. Criticism and advice from independent third parties is a valuable resource for any organization trying to improve. Just as Quest was a watchdog of the Greek community, others could play similar roles for additional groups on campus. As an example, The Michigan Daily recently appointed its first public editor, who provides periodic analysis and criticisms of the paper. The University Board of Regents could also benefit from third-party criticism and insight by creating a student regent position.

Obviously, Quest was far from the ideal critic. At times, he inaccurately used stereotypes to characterize his subjects, which undermined any discussions he helped to start. Also, some of his writing was simply inflammatory and didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than causing controversy.

What’s most detrimental, however, was that Quest wrote anonymously. His undercover posting shielded him from his own critics, allowing him to blog more recklessly. By writing under a pseudonym, Quest was contradicting the same transparency he was advocating for.

However, Quest would have never been taken seriously if he was just some independent person writing. Because he was a mystery, he was frustrating enough to garner attention. It is a shame that Quest felt he had to post anonymously. Criticism should be welcomed instead of shunned. Criticism should be embraced by its recipients. Just as important, critics should try to deliver their criticism responsibly.

Following the example of Quest doesn’t necessarily mean becoming the next offensive, sarcastic blogger that people will talk about. Maybe being Quest-like means participating more in class discussions or calling a congressional representative once a year. Maybe it means talking up community issues with a friend. A great start could be to write a letter to the editor of this newspaper to make criticisms of this column.

I hope the next Johnny Quest is as bold as the original, daring to speak freely in places that it is uncommon or uncomfortable to do so. I also hope that the next Johnny Quest can express his or her opinion without the veil of a mystery identity. Indeed, we can all learn something from Quest’s short run as a blogger and strive to use our voices to courageously foster a more thoughtful, nuanced debate. If we want to improve our communities over time, having a respectful, critical debate is absolutely necessary.

–Neil Tambe can be reached at ntambe@umich.edu.

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