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July 14, 2011


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curious too!

As a fellow pre-tenure prawf, I am eagerly awaiting answers to this question. I have not yet begun knitting at conferences or in faculty meetings, although the pile of knitting to be completed makes me wish that I could. I worry that it might be distracting to others, although I don't worry about my own ability to pay attention. Indeed, I am almost always doing something else (usually watching TV or a movie) while knitting.

Jessica Owley

For the knitters out there (and because two people have already asked): Yes of course I am on ravelry, the world's greatest social networking site, you can find me under the very creative moniker "owley."


I'm an academic law librarian and adjunct, and I can tell you that knitting is rampant at librarian conferences. I'm not a knitter, but I think there's a big difference between knitting during a large session at a professional conference (probably OK) and knitting during a faculty meeting (probably will earn you more than a few frowns). At librarian conferences, knitters usually refrain from knitting if they are attending a session with less than 50 people where interaction with other participants is expected.


I respect the knitting hobby. I do not, however, understand the notion this might ever be considered appropriate behavior at a professional conference, faculty meeting, or committee meeting. While I appreciate that some people can pay attention while knitting, it is distracting to others around the person. It just seems like an activity more appropriate for home and less appropriate for professional settings. Imagine a 1L law clerk taking some knitting to their summer job -- I think not. Law faculty and law library faculty should set a professional example at all times when in professional settings including environments (professional conferences) where students aren't even present. At that time, you represent your law school. I feel somewhat safe in assuming we'd be hard-pressed to find a Dean who would encourage this conduct in our capacities as representatives of the law school.



Jessica Owley

Thanks for the interesting comments everyone. I am not planning to defend knitting here (oh well maybe I am a little ), but I was noticing an interesting grouping of issues based on these comments and e-mails I received.

Concern 1: Knitters can't really be paying attention.

Concern 2: Knitting is distracting to others.

Concern 3: Knitting is simply unprofessional and disrespectful.

Number 1 is the easiest to dispute and depends mostly on the knitter (both their level of knitting skill and their learning style). People who are kinesthetic learners can often listen better if they are doing something that keeps their hands busy. Of course, the could choose less obtrusive things like doodling, but that really gets to concerns 2 and 3. Easier to listen while knitting than while e-mailing I think.

Numbers 2 and 3 are harder. Instead of discussing knitting though, I wonder generally about what types of actions/activities cross this line. Do we feel the same way about people working on the laptops, ipads, and blackberries? The person with the sketchpad? How about those people who sit in faculty meetings prepping for class, grading papers, or reviewing admissions files? The woman nursing her child in the back? The father who brings his 6 year old who sits in the back coloring? The person blogging at a conference (or perhaps more distractedly putting together the power point presentation for their upcoming talk)? Which activities do we deem acceptable and which cross that line? Of course that line is ever-moving but it does seem that technology- and paper-based activities are the most readily accepted.

Oh and a side note. I did not realize that this would be such a controversial topic. Almost all pro-knitting comments have been e-mailed to me directly. It appears that folks are not only reluctant to knit in public but perhaps also reluctant to endorse knitting.


This is not something I have thought about for a long time but when I was on the job market, a committee member at one law school knitted during my interview. I found it totally distracting and rude. I also think it is quite rude for academics to be checking blackberries during meetings (not mindnumbing faculty meetings when all is fair game). Is there any academic whose email can't wait an hour?

Jessica Owley

Wow, during an interview. That would be a little weird. There should be some unspoken rule about number of people in the room perhaps? Not just for knitting but for all these things -- perhaps when there are fewer then 12 people in the room?

Checking blackberries only acceptable for people expecting urgent calls? clinicians with active cases?


One cannot avoid the gendered implications of this question. One who engages in knitting during a meeting would be viewed by many as a light-weight and less serious a professional, whereas one who checks sports scores during a meeting is generally not viewed by such people in that light.


The lawyers and academics who are checking their iToys, grading papers, etc., in meetings are, in my experience, generally the types who want to make sure everyone knows that they are too "busy and important" (hat tip to this blog) to give their full attention to the nonsense going on around them. So I think that sort of activity can't fairly be compared to knitting, which I agree with others sends a completely different message - which is, in my opinion, one of detachment and boredom. Although I know this not to be the case generally (as my mother is a prolific knitter/crafter), I also find it a little off-putting when it others are knitting, cross-stitching, or doing the like in a professional setting. Fairly or not, it seems to me to be a form of entertainment (a la video gaming). That said, I also agree with the above comment that the gendered aspect of this particular activity and its repercussions cannot be ignored.


I used to be a big knitter at faculty meetings because it helped distract me from the utter boredom of the event and -- most importantly -- it helped me keep my mouth SHUT. I stopped when an older faculty member told me she thought it was rude and distracting. But when everyone started bringing their lap tops and blackberries to the faculty meeting, I started bringing mine too. The lap top similarly helps me tune out and keep my mouth shut. I can't imagine that it seems less rude, however.

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