Phi Beta Cons

Academia’s Blind Spot

I’m grateful to Henry Manne, emeritus dean of the George Mason Law School, for pointing to an instance of academia’s knee-jerk hostility toward market exchange. It also illustrates academia’s excessive focus on sex and race issues even where they don’t exist.

The story is a bit complicated, and the details are exhaustively reported on InsideHigherEd, but I’ll boil them down here.

Earlier this month, Biology Online, a blog associated with Scientific American magazine, conducted an email exchange. A Biology Online staffer, “Ofek,” invited Danielle N. Lee, a postdoctoral biologist at Oklahoma State University (who writes for Scientific American’s blog) to become a blogger for Biology Online. She responded by asking if there was any pay. “Ofek” said no, and she politely declined. He replied by saying, “Because we don’t pay for bloggers? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

Needless to say, this verbiage became hot news when Lee reported it on her blog — especially when Scientific American took the post down (presumably out of embarrassment). In fact, all hell broke loose. To numerous commentators (one even started a boycott of the Scientific American site), Lee had been attacked because of the widespread disrespect of women and minorities in academia.  “We’ve got a gender problem in academia,” wrote one blogger. “Despite the impressive gains women have made relative to men at every level of educational attainment we remain a minority in academic leadership roles.”

As Henry Manne stated in his email to friends, everyone missed the point (at least everyone quoted by InsideHigherEd). No one recognized that the staff member’s response had nothing to do with her sex or race. The staffer (who has been fired) was upset because Lee “wanted to be paid in coin of the realm, the venal sin of capitalism. There is no reason that I can see to assume that gender or race had anything to do with this calumny; rather it was sheer ideological bias against the market.”

And so it goes.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...


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