Philosophical ruminations.
March 31 1999 3:30 AM

News from academe.

(Continued from Page 1)

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The Menchú wars continue. David Horowitz, right-wing firebrand and head of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, has taken out an ad in six college newspapers excoriating "tenured radicals" for defending the distorted autobiographical writings of Guatemalan Nobel laureate and activist Rigoberta Menchú. (See the Feb. 2 "Egghead" for the back story.) The ad singles out one Wellesley College professor by name and declares, "This fraud was originally perpetrated and is still defended by your professors." A few weeks ago, a conservative foundation placed an ad in college papers urging undergraduates to sue their schools in order to battle affirmative action policies. Will suing professors be next?

The Bookie

Robert Darnton, an expert on the history of the book, predicts a long life for the medium in the New York Review of Books. The prophecies of '60s media guru Marshall McLuhan have not come to pass. In spite of the rise of television and the Internet, we do not live in a "post-literate" civilization dominated by "technological man." Although the book remains uniquely portable, durable, and an aesthetically satisfying means of conveying written information, there is one corner of the Gutenberg galaxy where print may be passé--the world of scholarly publishing. The monograph, traditionally the young academic's ticket to tenure and promotion, has become too expensive for presses to produce or for libraries to purchase. Darnton suggests that electronic publishing can change not only the way scholarly work is disseminated--online rather than in the stacks--but also the shape of scholarship itself. The electronic book would ideally be arranged "in layers, ... like a pyramid." Readers could move from basic information to complex analysis, from primary sources to ongoing debates. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies have committed funds to the development of such books.

School's Out for Chandra

Malaysian dissident Chandra Muzaffar lost his post at Universiti Malaya last month. University officials claim that tight finances forced them to cut funding for Chandra's Centre for Civilisational Dialogue. But human rights groups in Malaysia and abroad see other motivations at work: A vocal supporter of the embattled ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Chandra has "frequently criticized the abuses of power by the authorities," writes one Malaysian group. He was the founding president of a prominent Malaysian human rights organization and, together with Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, he founded the Social Justice Movement known in Malaysia as Adil. Human Rights Watch has initiated a campaign on Chandra's behalf. Jonathan Fanton, chair of Human Rights Watch and president of the New School University, wrote to the Malaysian government urging both an investigation into Chandra's dismissal and a stop to the spread of political battles into the academic realm.

MIT's Woman Problem

Confessing a decades-long pattern of discrimination against female faculty, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is taking measures to cure itself. In a report posted on the Web, the country's leading institute of science documents entrenched if subtle discrimination against women in almost every aspect of professional academic life from salaries and promotions to committee work and office size. The report notes that the school's tenure rate for women has stagnated at 8 percent for two decades (the national average is 26 percent) and that women faculty were required to raise twice as much money in outside grants as men. "I believe that in no case was this discrimination conscious or deliberate," Robert Birgeneau, dean of MIT's School of Science told the New York Times. "Nevertheless, the effects were real." Birgeneau has promised increases in salary, lab space, and research money to women faculty and vowed to bring the number of tenured females to 10 percent by next year.

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