Leah Wescott believes that higher education can improve people’s lives, but sometimes it can be maddening.
At 4 a.m. one June night, she found a way to vent. Ms. Wescott pulled out her laptop and wrote four pages of Onion-esque satirical headlines by the time the sun came up. Two days later, she bought a domain name, and her satirical Web site, The Cronk of Higher Education, was born.
“I have a lot of meetings, I have a pen, and I have snark,” Ms. Wescott wrote in an e-mail message to The Chronicle. “That’s my recipe for satire.”
“Leah Wescott,” a nom de plume, is an instructor and student-affairs administrator at a private university in the Northeast. She creates the Web site’s content with two other writers. Inspiration comes from their day-to-day lives.
On Wednesday morning, for example, Ms. Wescott sat through a staff meeting “in which a dozen professionals debated over the wording of a study-skills flier.” Secure in the knowledge that versions of that argument were ubiquitous in academe, she wrote the headline, “Debate Over Preposition Brought to Supreme Court.”
The headlines usually come first, just as they do at The Onion. Ms. Wescott will then select good spoof topics and edit the articles. She usually allows a two-month gap between writing and editing, so a set of fresh eyes is viewing the satirical material. Her own favorite articles, she says, are “the ones aimed directly at ourselves.”
“One of the first articles I wrote was called ‘Staff Member Marries the Rules in Campus Chapel,’” Ms. Wescott says. “I know that character. I know a hundred of that character. In moments of weakness, I am that character.”
The hardest part of the job, she says, is editing. Demanding rewrites or telling a contributor that an article just isn’t funny makes her uncomfortable. Cronk also accepts submissions, although a post saying the Web site is looking for a summer intern is a spoof. Ms. Wescott says a new writer will soon begin posting in the guise of an naive unpaid intern.
A Cronk book is in the works (to be released next year), she says. So are speaking engagements.
Ms. Wescott also laughs more these days. “Whether in front of a classroom or alone in my office, I can’t think of anything better than out-loud, well-deserved laughter,” she says. “Now, I have a community of readers who appreciate the same type of humor and send me smart humor.”