Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Work of Genius and Bravery

(April 1, 2009) At Inside Higher Ed today, my colleague and friend Scott McLemee uncorks one of the greatest academic exposes since the outing of Paul de Man as a Nazi-sympathizing journalist in mid-20th Century Belgium.

In my five years as editor of the research section of The Chronicle of Higher Education, I had never been privy to the existence of a secret "AcademoList." But McLemee somehow gained access to it and rips the lid off this deep dark listserv cabal of left-wingnut academia here.

The tale of how McLemee stumbled on the listserv will appeal to those who trawl the thankless precincts of cultural studies -- a world where personas shift kaledescopically and the securing of Ur-cultifacts is an elusive and dangerous game:

The back story of how I gained access to AcademoList is perhaps needlessly complex. Suffice it to say that there have been rumors for some time now about a black market in VHS tapes of certain cable-access programs from the 1980s, including Camile Paglia’s brief but intense period as Christian televangelist.

For years I have been trying to locate copies of "In the Kitchen with Slavoj" -- in its day, the most popular cooking program in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, even though each episode ended with the studio audience refusing to eat the dish the host had prepared. This kind of thing you don’t find on eBay.

Anyway, a friend of the publicist of a friend of mine passed along contact information for someone who might be able to help. Following a mix-up in e-mails, I was forwarded information on how to subscribe to AcademoList.

The entire article is worth your time, but McLemee's revelation of how a commercial academic press triggered the current economic meltdown should excite intense cross-disciplinary interest:

The whole meltdown really started in mid-2005, when the academic publishing powerhouse Elsevier doubled the subscription price for Studies in Advanced Topological Regression Analysis -- a journal known for its tiny but strangely devoted following among video game designers. (Go figure.) I am told that one of its articles was an important influence on Grand Theft Auto III.

In order to absorb the six-digit increase in subscription cost, several cutting-edge research universities were obliged to triple the size of most lower-division courses, thereby eliminating hundreds of adjunct jobs. Most of those adjuncts had subprime mortgages. The rest, alas, is economic history.

As I say read it. And let me tip my hat to McLemee's brave reporting. He will make many enemies with this article. But he followed the evidence right where it led. The repercussions of this article in higher education will be immense.

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