Misleading commentary

Yesterday’s Sunday Independent newspaper contained an opinion piece by Marc Coleman under the heading ‘Highest-paid academics of Europe get yet another rise’. Actually, if you Google the name Marc Coleman you’ll get a choice of either a ‘mixed martial arts fighter’, or a self-styled ‘media economist, author and event speaker.’ I’d like to think that this piece was by the kung fu guy, but I have a hunch it was the event speaker. So I think our Marc Coleman here is the economics editor of radio station Newstalk, who also has a regular newspaper column.

In this particular piece Coleman delivers himself of some astoundingly facile comments on the French Revolution (à propos of pretty well nothing), before settling in to a theme he has pursued before and which he clearly enjoys: the unacceptable ways of the academic community. This is what he offers us:

‘As for nobility, there are many, but last week the nobles in the news were our academic elites. And if they and their royal cousins – government politicians – don’t wake up, we could be in for political chaos and economic disaster… On Monday, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) raised the pay of lecturers by between €4,000 and €10,000. The result will be the loss of part-time lecturers – the proverbial peasants – who work far harder and earn far less.’

I guess it’s important to correct this in case somebody takes it at face value. Those reading Coleman’s article without knowing the facts might conclude that TCD had implemented a general pay rise for staff – indeed, that is the clear message we are supposed to take from the piece. In fact that’s nonsense. As we have noted in this blog, Trinity’s decision related to the completion of a promotions round initiated two years ago, as a result of which 27 (out of a total of maybe 700) lecturers get a promotion in status, but for now no pay rise. Even if and when the pay rise kicks in, the impact on TCD’s budget will be tiny, and certainly won’t cause a loss of jobs for Coleman’s ‘proverbial peasants.’ But unless he didn’t inform himself at all before rushing into print, Marc Coleman knows this. What he has done is put a wholly misleading slant on a news item in order to have a go at the academic community.

The problem with such commentary is that it actually frustrates genuine attempts to produce reform. It is clear enough that academic practice will need to change further, and that universities will have to reinvent themselves and find different and better ways of conducting their business. But this is made immeasurably more difficult when hostile and misleading comments are made by those who have every opportunity to know better.

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9 Comments on “Misleading commentary”

  1. Al Says:

    Twas a weak article.
    An underdeveloped idea married to an already arrived at conclusion?
    He seems to fit the ‘kick someone’ slot in the SIndo, that others have occupied through the years.
    Aswell as being the Anti-McWilliams: the best is yet to come? That is a great usp!

    More Mark here:
    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2009/05/14/coleman-on-taxes-and-the-evils-of-phd-economists/

    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2010/05/23/coleman-obsession-with-phd-economists/

  2. cormac Says:

    It was an exceptionally poor article, and deliberately misleading.
    It’s a pity there is no public forum for a weekly review of such newspaper articles, I often think

  3. cormac Says:

    Speaking of misleading:I enjoyed the FvP article in Saturday’s IT, but you clearly implied that all IoTs “close their doors on June 20th”. This is demonstrably untrue and for those of us in the IoT sector who use the summer months for research it’s irritating to have a university president make such public pronouncements. Of course, it is only a minority of ioT lecturers who engage in such research but inaccuracies weaken the article..

    • Perry Share Says:

      Cormac – you beat me to it! I have been consistently working with a number of my colleagues here in the IT since 20 June, and there is no sign of things letting up. I was struck by how busy our campus is (building work notwithstanding) compared to that of a US university I visited in early June, where everyone had gone away!


    • Actually, I believe that what I said was that *some* IOTs close their doors for the summer (I never mentioned thew precise date of June 20th). I have to say I’ll stand by that; over the past three weeks I have tied to call two different institutes and was told that there was ‘nobody there’ and that they wouldn’t return until later next month. I know that there are others (and presumably some staff in the two) who work differently.

      • Al Says:

        Is that a fair characterisation of an IOT’s functionality during the summer months>?

        Have you tried emailing any specific individual?
        Most management have blackberry’s and are working over the summer.

        To conclude that ‘nobody there’ means closed, when it might be closer to the truth that administratively it is a go slow, while other work is going on.


  4. I’m fond of arguing that a citizen is harmed when a lie which affects public discourse appears in the media. It is odd that a citizen may make formal complaint about a lie in an advertisement but if a lie – even that same lie – appears as news or comment, a citizen must simply endure it.

    Here’s an old and short piece from my blog:
    http://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/let-the-active-citizen-publicly-complain-about-lies-in-the-media/

  5. cormac Says:

    Ahem! Ferdinand the article clearly says
    “We’re not an institute of technology. We don’t close our doors in June.”
    (see http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/0717/1224274867227.html )

    This fairly clearly implies that all IoTs shut up shop for the summer in June, which is unfair on those that don’t. Perhaps you were misquoted?


    • Ah no, I wouldn’t want to suggest I was misquoted. I’m sure I said what I was reported as saying. But I didn’t mean by this that *all* IOTs do this. But some do.


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