This story happened to a friend of a friend — FOF in urban legend technical parlance — when I was a student at Yale. Said FOF had applied for a Rhodes scholarship, and was invited for an interview. Reading the FOF’s application letter stating that he sought to “further the legacy of Cecil Rhodes”, one interviewer asked, “When you refer to the legacy of Cecil Rhodes, do you mean in particular his legacy as a white supremacist or as a pedophile?”
I’m not sure if it’s credible that a representative of the Rhodes Trust could speak so disparagingly of its founder — this may be an example of British establishment values refracted through the prism of 1980s American student sentiment — but the principle is solid: Many who advocate leaving monuments to dubious figures of the past in situ — whether Cecil Rhodes or Robert E. Lee — complain suggest, instead of “rewriting history” that this statuary needs to be seen “in context”. But they rarely concern themselves with providing the full context.
Now that Charlottesville has deposed its racist monument and Oriel College has kept its own, I wondered if the Oxford City Council might propose a solution amenable to all. Accepting the right of Oriel and its not-at-all-racist historically-minded alumni who refused to donate to a Rhodes-free institution, there is still plenty of space in front of the facade for more context. As it stands, the college places Rhodes in the context of two 20th-century kings and four 15th-16th-century college provosts and bishops. The city (or enterprising protestors) could contribute more context by placing an exhibition out front of famous British racists — for example, Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Enoch Powell — with the Rhodes statue in the centre.
I am of two minds about efforts to put pressure on particularly bad actors in the scientific publishing field (such as Elsevier) to reform, since the result of that reform would be a slightly less greedy ectoparasite sucking the blood of the research community, slightly more sustainably. I think (as I wrote here) that the whole model of peer review is antiquated and oppressive and (as the British like to say) no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps we should seek to sharpen the contradictions, in the hopes that the academic proletariat will shake off these leeches. We should strive to make all journals like Elsevier, and double the prices.
Mathematician Timothy Gowers started organising a boycott of Elsevier a couple of years ago. I’m not sure how it’s going, but here’s some information about it. And here’s some artwork:
Although, in fairness, I must point out that it wasn’t Elsevier who first tried to lock down the Tree of Knowledge. It was this guy:
“Here’s your takedown notice.”
Now that Elsevier has taken to making legal threats against academics who publish articles on their own academic web sites, Henry Farrell is proposing a novel strategy that combines the boycott with an embrace of Elsevier’s tactics:
I think that everyone should submit as much of their work to Elsevier as they possibly can. Any article that has even a modest chance of success. People should bear through the revise and resubmit process as many times as it takes. Once the piece has finally been accepted, then, and only then, should they withdraw the article from consideration, and then publish it on their university or personal website with an “accepted by Elsevier Journal x and then withdrawn in protest,” together with a copy of the acceptance email (containing the editor’s email address etc).