Blog confidential: Disingenuous in the extreme

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online

July 22, 2010

This week: Disingenuous in the extreme

Last week's Blog Confidential was not only one of the worst articles I have read in Times Higher Education in recent years, but it was also disingenuous and on the edge of libel.

I do not trawl the pages of the magazine looking for outrageous fiction designed to sensationalise or provoke a response from pro vice-chancellors, but in your lap-dancing blog last week you failed to follow rudimentary guidelines on judgement, ethics and sensibility.

Whoever wrote to THE was, I have no doubt, an individual of the type we are seeking to remove from academia - constantly undermining, subversive without intellectual challenge and nihilistically obsessed with trivial fakery of the worst kind. Does "Margot" not have a brain to decide what is true and what is lampooning of the worst possible kind? To even suggest that a vice-chancellor would take a Chinese delegation on some immoral jaunt is bad enough, but to then suggest that the expenses incurred had somehow fallen victim to "creative accountancy" requires some sort of editorial disciplinary - or am I the only senior manager to take such a stand? This is an academic magazine and not some sort of journalistic version of The Wire. Action please.

Each week I receive several suggestions, concerns or diatribes about some aspect of academic life. I have to consider the possibility of fakery - yes, I do have a sense of judgement and my skill is to consider authenticity and getting the attention of the reader.

I have been in academia for too long to consider that last week's blog was completely out of order. I am sure some of the readers (and I) have stories that go way beyond satire and make-believe. While this particular contributor did not leave a contact address (but did provide me with a means of communication) I did feel it had some semblance of integrity. Judging by the threads and contributions last week it is by no means an unlikely scenario. I hope this weekly column does provide an opportunity for anyone in academia to have a space to express their concerns. I realise that this column may sometimes read like an article from Private Eye, but this person has expressed a concern and contributors to the blog (some at least) have indicated that this story is not only authentic but also highly plausible. It has not been my experience to find that ethics and values become more pronounced as one climbs the academic mountain - it would seem, in this instance, that the judgement of the wise and powerful was complicated by the desire for excessive profits from an emerging country where democracy is limited, human rights violated and its population constantly under scrutiny. Winston Smith might have had objections, but many in academia would suggest they are "nice people to do business with". When there are millions on the table there is more than a greasy pole to climb and I do not need lessons in journalistic morality from some shocked senior academic to keep me awake at night.

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