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Unruly Academics, Uppity Workers

December 28, 2013, 5:44 pm

Unruly Academics

The New York Times has discovered influence peddling in academia, and it’s front page news:

But interviews with dozens of academics and traders, and a review of hundreds of emails and other documents involving two highly visible professors in the commodities field — Mr. Pirrong and Professor Scott H. Irwin at the University of Illinois — show how major players on Wall Street and elsewhere have been aggressive in underwriting and promoting academic work.

Twitter blew up, of course. The odd thing, though, is that the case against Irwin, at least, is about as substantial as a tissue in a rainstorm. There are vague mutterings about Irwin testifying before Congress on, shockingly, his area of expertise, allied with mutterings about donations to the University of Illinois. It’s not until nearly the last paragraph of a 3000 word article that we discover that:

While the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has given more than $1.4 million to the University of Illinois since 2008, most has gone to the business school and none to the School of Agriculture and Consumer Economics, where Mr. Irwin teaches.

So it didn’t even give any money to Irwin’s school at Illinois? But surely he got money directly, right?

When Mr. Irwin asked the exchange’s foundation for $25,000 several years ago to sponsor a website he runs to inform farmers about agricultural conditions and regulations, his request was denied

Oh. But when he did get a grant from someone connected to commodities, he concealed it, right?

Last year, he was paid $50,000 as a consultant for Gresham Investment Management in Chicago, which manages $16 billion and runs its own commodities index fund. He noted Gresham’s sponsorship in the paper and on his disclosure form, and said it gave him the opportunity to use new data and test new hypotheses.

Ah. Well, that’s a smoking gun if I ever heard one. This is not to say that academics don’t get influenced by outside funders, but if the Times can only scrape up Irwin as one of its two examples, then it’s got a ways to go to show anything at all.

Uppity Workers

Meanwhile, in the “how dare people doing manual labor actually make money” department, the Times also devotes a chunk of the front page to stagehands on Broadway who actually make a substantial living. The title “Hey, Stars, Be Nice to the Stagehands. You Might Need a Loan” pretty much tells us where the article’s going, and an early paragraph confirms the direction:

The stagehands of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees bring some of New York City’s most glittering stage effects to life, from the auditoriums of Lincoln Center to the theaters of Broadway. But their work comes at a steep price, even at venues where they do little more than load in orchestras and set up music stands.

Shocking! How come they get so much money? The job can’t be difficult, right? It’s just manual labor:

The electricians, carpenters, stage riggers and other members of Local 1 build, run and break down the most complicated of sets, handle the lighting and sound equipment and manage the special effects. At the Metropolitan Opera, that means moving tons of scenery day and night.

And:

Labor historians, Broadway producers and executives at the nonprofit performance institutions chalk up the union’s power to two major factors: that Local 1’s members have hard-to-replace skills, and that their jobs cannot easily be outsourced

You mean people with hard-to-replace skills that can’t be outsourced have the ability to demand and get high pay for their performance? That’s just so…so…capitalist and free market. No wonder the Times is shocked.

I wonder why this is suddenly news?

Those high costs were underscored by a stagehands walkout that forced the cancellation of this season’s opening night at Carnegie Hall and called attention to the hall’s five full-time stagehands’ total yearly compensation, an average of more than $400,000 each.

Hmm. Chances that there was a New York Times publisher/editor/reporter inconvenienced by the cancellation of opening night at Carnegie Hall?

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