“Since all this has unfolded over a period of months, you’ll appreciate that I’ve found it frustrating…”

By the end of September, I’d been able to extract who in fact was behind the Journal decision. And to decode a few earlier evasions and undeclared backflips. In sum, the owners too had concerns about the article, after all; the decision was not made by the publisher, after all; the original was never formally published, after all; no need for a retraction notice, after all; and now the revised version (its edits in limbo since April) would not be published, after all.

Much of this was news to me, if not to those in the know. The outcome hadn’t changed since that coffee with Lynn in July (Chapter 20). His advice then had been to cut your losses. As if to say: it is what it is. Yet somewhere off-stage, behind the makeshift walls of stony silence and bureaucratic flummery, Journal reality no longer was what it was.

While it helped make more sense of all the sounds of silence, the visible advice trail now made less. It seemed close to dissolving into words, words, words. Those rather strict rules of retraction and revision set out by Leo and Josh in March had been revised, without notice. The effect of this was to give the Journal scope for an innovative solution to its to retract or not to retract dilemma. The old and intractable problem of the Final and Unalterable Version of Record had been replaced with a new, less visible problem: the Unexplained Disappearance of the Infamously Pilloried Paper.

No-one at the Journal was declaring that mistakes were made. I was glad that Glyn, at least, shared my sense of how surreal this latest plot twist seemed: The sense of a Kafka story continues unabated, alas…

In our field of higher education policy and management, hoodwinking colleagues was seldom held to be best practice. Likewise, the ostracism of refusing to reply at all. Who else at the University could watch this plot unfold, and fail to find it farcical? All that remained was for the author to abandon hope, suspend disbelief and play along. Or for someone in the room where it happened to step out of character, turn to an unseen audience, and declare that The Play Was Over:

Alas poor Sharrock, ’twas all but a midsummer dream!

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended…

As Glyn had foreshadowed in August, the apparent indifference of the Journal‘s editorial board did not bode well for processes or professionalism (Chapter 21). It was as if, in the preceding months, some discreet intelligence-sharing between Melbourne and London had led a Department of Administrative Affairs to refer my work to a Ministry of Inconvenient Truth so that it would be made to disappear.

Re-reading the editor’s last email (Chapter 22), I recalled how in that Kafka story, Josef K stood up in court to denounce the entire system as a charade: And what, gentleman, is the purpose of this great organisation? To arrest innocent people and wage pointless prosecutions against them … How can it not become corrupt when everything is devoid of meaning? By comparison, my own response to the latest twist had been (I thought) a model of restraint: any sane person can see that the problematic aspects of the Journal’s response will not go away (Chapter 23).

I knew that for busy senior people, a common debacle management strategy was to make it clear, early on, that others were responsible. Then if they failed to fix it, they could be called on to explain what happened, and wear the blame. As for the victims, the hope must be that they’d see the big picture, accept the outcome and suffer in silence.

This now looked like part of Leo’s logic back in June (Chapter 17). He’d been clear that handling the complaint was the editor’s role. His own concern was to ensure the academic integrity of the process (Chapter 18). But now there was a process integrity problem. And the editor’s main task, it seemed, had been to convey the decision to the author as a done deal, while keeping a lid on the details. As far as I could now tell, the method behind this madness had been for the parties to hide behind the editor, who in turn could hide behind the publisher. (No-one had assumed I’d ask the publisher directly – or if I did, that I’d get a clear answer from Josh.) And with that lid now lifted, no-one had denied the confirmation from Ian, that Leo had a hand in the decision. In sum: Clearly your initial solution (and mine) – minor amendments, made quickly – was not supported by others overseeing the journal for one reason or another. But now the most sensible option has been abandoned, and you have been left to explain the inexplicable… (Chapter 23).

Thus far I’d kept the unfolding saga largely intramural. Despite its frosty reception, my outline in The Australian didn’t name names, nor signal any strife at the Centre (Chapter 21). At the time I’d written it with some scholarly content aims and some tactical process aims. My reply would correct the misreporting, clarify my paper’s headline, reiterate its argument, and confirm that some scholars accepted its case. Doing this, I had hoped, would clear the way for republication. The publisher’s legal team could no longer point to the media reporting. And in private I could call on the complainant to put his case publicly, with the Centre group in the loop: You may want to respond with your own view.

In other words: show me the substance or stop complaining. But I hadn’t been aware that the Journal deal had been done, long before. (So much for my Hamlet plan: The reply’s the thing we’ll print to prick the conscience of our colleagues…)

Alone in my office at the Centre one mid-October morning, sore-headed and sleep-deprived, I felt deflated to the point of depression. There had been no word from Leo (or Lynn or Vin) to say: we’ll discuss this and get back to you. The months of effort to resolve this fuss about an omelette now served only to recall my old English professor’s line on the effect of publishing a poem: like dropping a feather down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.

It must have been obvious to all that what had happened wouldn’t pass many pub tests. But I wondered now if the deal was deemed all too hard to undo. (As Josef K was advised: he didn’t need to accept the truth of what he’d been told – just its necessity.) It wasn’t hard to imagine the editorial board being given a bland assurance that the Journal decision wasn’t that problematic. It was a judgement call. And now it would be best for all concerned to respect the editor’s decision. After so much detailed consideration, for anyone to challenge it at this late stage would be inappropriate or counter-productive.

That is, the review request would not to be seen as a call to uphold an author’s rights when someone alleged a breach of ethics (Chapter 5); or blocked a legitimate publication by shouting loudly, without much substance (Chapter 12). And not as a call on the Journal to uphold academic freedom even when some inconvenient truth caused a stir (Chapter 4).

The lack of response was familiar. And as a modus operandi, it seemed unprofessional. If senior people at our own Centre couldn’t grasp the issues here, discuss them openly and shed some light, who could?

Weeks earlier, I’d warned the editorial group that in time, others would hear of how the Journal had handled this (Chapter 22). But until they’d had ample time to work out what to do, I was reluctant to take this step. So the waiting game wore on. As well, I now recalled that media report back in June, of a professor sanctioned by his university for not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues. And that warning in July from an Institute colleague, about a policy being considered at our own University, designed to rule out risk to its reputation or profitability (Chapter 20). He’d spelt out the implications: In fact, better just not criticise anyone or anything. I am only half-serious about this. Surely the university would not want to censor or punish academics through this policy…

At the time I’d agreed: surely not. Such a rule could be abused, to stifle free inquiry. And in an institution like ours, that would make everything devoid of meaning… So here I was in the office, with a nagging headache. What I needed was some fresh air. Shutting down my laptop, I grabbed an umbrella, pocketed my phone and headed off down the corridor. Near the exit, head throbbing, I decided on a quick detour. Heading up the narrow spiral stair at the rear of the building, I emerged to find the upstairs tearoom empty. As usual it was tidy. No used plates or coffee-cups on the tables. The only sign of recent use was an empty plastic bag of jelly snakes on the kitchen bench. Bemused as to what it might signify, I drank a quick glass of water with some Panadol tablets and headed back downstairs.

Outside the sky was dull and grey. The forecast was for rain. I could see dark clouds gathering overhead. Rather than sit outside at Potter’s Espresso and risk bumping into colleagues I headed off-campus, across Swanston Street and then down Elgin, into Carlton. Attaching my ear pods, I tried lifting my mood with another old 1980s Crowded House song set on replay…

There is freedom within / There is freedom without…

At Lygon Street I paused: would a coffee and cake at Brunetti help?

There’s a battle ahead / Many battles are lost…

Still too close to campus, I decided. I crossed over and continued my descent, past Drummond Street –

Hey now, hey now / Don’t dream it’s over…

And then further on down, past Rathdowne and Canning –

In the paper today / Tales of war and of waste…

At the corner of Nicholson, I paused again as a citybound tram rolled by.

Hey now, hey now / Don’t dream it’s over…

Crossing over at the lights, Carlton and its denizens were finally behind me.

They come, they come / To build a wall between us / You know they won’t win…

I was now in Fitzroy, on familiar turf. And what I needed most was a coffee at Marios.

(For years I’d gone there every day for a latte after work. But I was now no longer a local. These days my Marios routine had become the odd Sunday morning family breakfast.)

Now I’m walking again / To the beat of a drum…

Along Johnston Street my pace now roughly matched the endless traffic, a syncopated growl of engine noise and exhaust pipes. So much for fresh air… To escape the fumes, I took an early left along Fitzroy Street. By taking a right at Argyle and again at Brunswick Street, I’d reach Marios from the other side.

Hey now, hey now / Don’t dream it’s over / Hey now, hey now…

But at Argyle, on a sudden whim, I kept straight on for another block. Then took a right onto Kerr Street, and stopped. I hadn’t walked past that house for years…

Back in the 1980s I’d shared it with a shifting population of postgrads. At my desk in a front room, I’d gaze out the window as I banged out drafts of a Shakespeare thesis on a battered old second-hand typewriter.

(At the time, gentle reader, deconstructing the ironies of Elizabethan romcoms seemed self-evidently worthwhile. I’d spend solitary days unpicking the clueless escapades of Two Gentlemen of Verona. And long weeks mapping precisely how misprision in Much Ado About Nothing makes Hero look guilty – as the other players, intent on imposing their schemes and delusions on the play’s tragic/comic trajectories, misled and misconstrued each other. As for tragedy, I won’t go into that Roman play. Suffice to say that in some lives, integrity itself can be a fatal flaw…)

Back then, Brunswick Street was not a hive of cafe culture. It was a low-rent bohemian enclave, dotted with empty shopfronts. We had Rhumbarellas and the Black Cat. But as yet no Marios, no Fitz and no Brunswick Street Bookstore. And now (from outside), the Kerr Street house had barely changed. A dilapidated Victorian terrace, its brickwork was still covered in dirty white stucco. Its interior had featured a tiny kitchen and bathroom at the rear, and a backyard toilet. The only sign of renovation was a metal spiral staircase in the lounge. As our mix of housemates shifted, my occupant status rose from the front room downstairs to the one above. The main benefit of this was its access to a sagging balcony. There I’d sit and read in the afternoons, overlooking the Evelyn Hotel on the corner. And think of how some dramas played out at more than one level: a model of a world to hold a mirror up to nature; and a maze the mind might enter to lose all sense of self…

And now I remembered a favourite Fitzroy housemate. A vivacious extrovert, Rosemary had been studying politics and social work and creative dance. In our habits and outlooks, we were often at odds. Her friends would drop by to drink wine and smoke cigarettes and talk up their support for the overthrow of capitalism.

I had been the household introvert, instinctively conservative, buried in literature. I had no fluency in politics. But the details of what they’d replace it all with seemed sketchy. If asked, they’d point to Eastern Europe. (Back then no Berlin Wall was about to fall.) Otherwise, their diagnosis of any serious disagreement was simple: if you had such doubts, it just meant your consciousness needs raising. But what about that old idea from John Stuart Mill, that competing doctrines shared the truth between them?

(All food for thought I had mused in those days, while serving my customers in Bourke Street… To pay the rent that year, I’d been working in my first waiter job, at Pelligrini’s. Like the owners, Nino and Sisto, every other Pellegrini’s waiter was Italian. Despite my obvious lack of experience, Nino had decided to give me a go. I never heard them talk politics or philosophy. But their modus operandi seemed clear: work hard, be kind, have fun.)

Late one evening at Kerr Street, I got into a long and fruitless argument with Rosemary (about what? I couldn’t recall). Round and round with neither giving ground, until we went off to our rooms to fume. As I lay awake and stewed into the early hours, a storm that had been brewing over Melbourne finally arrived. Beyond my balcony it lit up the sky, while drumming on our roof and pelting the windowpanes.

I gave up on sleep and got up and turned on a lamp. At my desk, on a long sheet of foolscap, I wrote the short note I’d been turning in my head for an hour. Then I slipped downstairs, left it on the table, went back up to bed and slept.

Late the next morning I woke to find that the storm had passed; the rain had stopped; it was a clear new day. And went down to find her already there, drinking coffee. She smiled and got up and gave me a hug. 

What a lovely poem.

Source: G Sharrock (Kerr Street, Fitzroy 1980s)

After that we kept things fairly sweet at Kerr Street. No more walls of disdain or falls into despair. For all our differences, we’d found a way to enlighten up. And to share what mattered to us more, then and there: work hard, be kind, have fun…

By now I’d reached the Brunswick Street Bookstore. My headache had eased. Resisting the usual urge to stop and browse the new releases, I walked on by and entered the cafe next door. Jo was there at the bar, chatting with Mario. As they waved in recognition, I parked my carcass on an empty stool at the front window. Jo appeared at my side.

Hi Geoff, what can we get you?

It was tempting to ask for something off-menu to match my weary, flat and frazzled state. A caffe l’accademia depresso-destresso. Or a ham-and-chicken dog’s breakfast-omelette with a side of flummery. But I was there for the familiar and predictable.

Just some fruit toast and a strong latte – thanks Jo.

She patted my shoulder and, minutes later, was back with a glass of latte. I added sugar and took a few sips. The toast appeared. I buttered it and took a bite. As I scrolled some unread emails, a very familiar old fellow-student walked in and headed for a table. He clocked me at the window, paused and backtracked to perch on a stool.

Geoffrey! Haven’t seen you for a while. You look a bit unwell – how are things?

We’d known each other well once, but hadn’t kept in touch. As Arts undergrads, back in our student theatre days, we’d done a few plays together. 

G: Not too bad, H – well shithouse actually

He was there for some French toast and English Breakfast tea. As I recounted a rough synopsis of the slings and arrows of the past 7 months – from storm in a teacup to publication cactus – he listened in growing disbelief. At the end he swallowed a final forkful, sipped some tea and shook his head.

H: Good grief, Geoffrey. So, you write a paper. It gets misquoted in the media and causes a stir in Canberra. Then a journalist and a professor decide to do you over. And you actually threaten to sue The Australian! But even when they back down, you still get done over by your boss at the University! And a Journal you’ve worked with for years!

G: In a nutshell

H: And this is how they do things at the University of Melbourne? Outrageous!

G: More than I’d ever dreamt of in philosophy, H. But no, I don’t think this is standard practice…

H: Over a paper called Beautiful Lies! It sounds like a Netflix series…

G: A sad and sorry saga. Mistaken aims and accidental judgements, casual slanders and bloody-minded colleagues, unnatural acts – and cunning plans whose upshot makes you want to kick their inventors’ heads back up their backsides… 

H: I can see it now: The Beautiful Lie…behind the sandstone walls of Melbourne’s oldest university

G: The ABC took that title already. If I were pitching it I’d go with Crapshoot…

H: Or rewrite it as a Hitchcock thriller: The Nerd Who Knew Too Much...

G: Dial M for Misprint…

H: Strangers on A Train of Thought…

G: Or just echo any title: The Silence of the Professors…

H: The Year My Brilliant Career Broke…

G: The Unbearable Rightness of Being Me…

H: Boy Swallows University…

G: Dogma Day Afternoon

H: A Series of Unfortunate Non-Events…

G: Scholar Mugged By Political Reality…

H: The Enigma of the Dead Sea Scroll

G: The Year Dogma Ate My Homework

H: Death of a Policy Wonk…

G: Death of a Witless Expert…

H: One Footnote from the Grave…

G: Living Death in Old Pathology…

H: He Died with a Furphy in His Hand…

G: Big Little Thought Crimes in Carlton…

Jo re-appeared, to take my empty glass and plate. I asked for another latte.

H looked at his watch. So … what happens now? Will someone senior intervene? Or do you have to go and find some other journal to publish it? 

G: One of my Institute colleagues on the editorial board did suggest that … as long as it’s not the one he edits! And he said it might be hard, because word gets around. So, if the Journal where people know me won’t accept it, I might spend the next 7 months being rejected by every other editor, one by one. And in 7 months I might not have a job

H: What about someone senior at the Centre, who isn’t with the Journal? 

G: So far no-one’s putting their hand up. They’d have to be interested in the technical questions, or the policy implications.

H: I must admit, my eyes did glaze over during that bit…

G: And who cares? Fans of the under-funding narrative, mainly. To them, it’s heresy. But to those who accept it, it’s boring. Common sense once you point it out. So, it’s not like I’m deconstructing Stranger Things. Or Reinventing the Political in Literature

H: And yet it all sounds very strange. And very, very political. Didn’t Orwell say somewhere that common sense could seem like heresy?

G: The “heresy of heresies”! If I’d I known it’d be such a thought-crime, I could’ve sent it off to some exciting new Journal of Unspeakable Ideas. If such a publication existed

H. Alas poor Geoffrey! Given the politics, I think what you need are some senior allies who understand this stuff, but who aren’t implicated. Someone with clout. Could they call on the Journal to give your edits another look?

G: I’ve asked those I know on the editorial board. But so far, no go. In our field the complainant has more clout than most. And my view isn’t popular in policy circles either. So, my sense is that no-one senior – in our building at least – is about to stand up for me on principle, given the politics.

H: What about the vice-chancellor?

G: I think he needs to keep the VC’s office neutral. If the VC intervened, my guess is he’d then get an endless stream of demands to take sides on all kinds of academic disputes. And really, in any given area, scholars themselves should be able to settle these things.

H: I see… except in this case they aren’t. Well look, I’ve got to go. Good luck and take care of yourself! Go home and relax and watch some TV to take your mind off it. A Hugh Grant romcom or something…

I finished my latte, paid and waved to Jo and Mario. And parted company with H out on Brunswick Street. We must catch up again soon.

I hadn’t told him about the curious incident with Enigma and Dogma. No-one would believe that. By now the sky had darkened; it looked ready to rain. I needed to get back to the office. But first, a quick visit to the bookstore. Browsing the new releases, I reflected that H was right. I needed a wider circle of senior people who knew what was happening. If only to guard against being set up as the guilty party.

One insider who wasn’t involved with the Journal was Richard, our Centre Director. Like most senior people, he was super-busy. He had two roles at the University that year, and often worked in another building. So, we’d had very few interactions, and none lately. The most recent note I’d seen was an email-to-all at the Centre in early September. It alerted us to Marginson’s new book, about Clark Kerr and the University of California (which I was planning to read but hadn’t yet even begun).

I decided to send an update to Richard that afternoon. Then at least he’d know my side of the story, not just whatever expurgated version had filtered back. Perhaps he’d have a quiet word with Leo, to suggest that the Journal might reconsider, before things went any further. I left the bookstore and headed back into Carlton.

Making my way up Elgin Street, I thought about the other thing H had said: I really should just go home, watch some TV and relax. As it happened, at home the weekend before we’d rewatched Notting Hill. Perhaps Music and Lyrics would be next. My wife and I had seen both films so often, we had parts of them off by heart. And knew that after many mishaps, some final declarations would enable a happy ending.

By the time I crossed Canning Street, it had begun to rain. Lightly at first, and then steadily. I opened my umbrella and trudged uphill. Head bowed against the downpour, I kept thinking: Instead of wading through this endless crap for such a little thought crime, I really do need to get back into my regular work.

And now I recalled that final Music and Lyrics song. Their confusions resolved, and their faith in each other restored, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore had brought their fragile little piece of work to life.

By the time I’d reached Rathdowne Street, waiting for the lights to change, I was rewriting their lines in my head…

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics (2007) Images: IMDB

Big Little Thought Crimes: Way Back Into Work

for censored scholars of the world, 2022

I’ve been living with a storm cloud over my bed

Hardly sleeping for the hurt inside my head

I’ve felt so troubled for a long time –

Trapped in so much crap

About my Big Little Thought Crimes… 

I’ve been keeping all my tropes and themes alive 

Just in case we ever see a new day arrive – 

I’ve been setting aside time 

To free a little space for my Big Little Thought Crimes… 

(Chorus) All I want to do is find my Way Back Into Work! 

I can’t make it through without some Way Back Into Work! 

Oh oh oh

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore sing in Music and Lyrics (2007)

At Drummond Street I could hear Haley Bennett take up the theme…

I’ve been watching but the stars refuse to shine

I’ve been waiting but the planets never realign –

I know some leaders must be out there

Ready to stand by my freedom somewhere!

I’ve been looking for someone to shed some light

Not somebody just to tell me it’s no good to fight

I could use some assistance –

Not just a wave down the path of least resistance!

(Chorus) All I want to do is find my Way Back Into Work! 

I won’t make it through without some Way Back Into Work! 

Oh oh oh

Hugh Grant and Haley Bennett sing Way Back Into Love

Nearing the campus at Cardigan Street, the final verse fell into place…

There are moments when I don’t know who to trust 

Or if anybody finds it at all unjust – 

I need resolution – 

Not just another political solution! 

I’ve been searching but I just don’t see any signs 

All their reasons never quite add up to rhymes 

I’ve been left hanging for a long time – 

Trapped in their crap 

About my Big Little Thought Crimes… 

(Chorus) All I want to do is find a Way Back Into Work! 

I won’t make it through without some Way Back Into Work! 

And if you’ll open your minds and be true –

I’m hoping you can see the way I do 

And if you’ll help me to work again –

You know that I’ll be there for you in the e-e-end! 

Oh oh oh 

Oh oh oh 

Oh oh oh

By now I’d crossed Swanston Street and was back on campus. The rain had moved on. At the back entrance of Old Pathology, I folded my umbrella and stepped inside. It was time to stop fretting and do something.

In the office I sat down to send Richard a detailed update on the state of play. As far as I knew the Centre director wasn’t aware of what the Journal had done. At our last exchange back in June, his main concern was that I might be about to take legal action against the professor as well as the newspaper (Chapter 19).

With an up-to-date briefing, at least Richard would be on the same page as Glyn and know where things now stood. He had no formal role with the Journal. I didn’t want to ask him to intervene. But perhaps he’d now urge Leo (and Lynn, and Vin) to at least respond to my request; or even ask Leo directly if the editorial board still thought the Journal‘s stance was defensible.

On my screen I composed yet another long note, read it through, and hit Send.

From: Geoff Sharrock
Date: Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 2:56 PM
To: Richard James
Cc: Glyn Davis
Subject: IN CONFIDENCE: update on OECD paper

Richard, For information, I’ve been reviewing the debates about my paper. Looking back, I think I could have given you more context for not following your advice at times, and I hope this note will redress that. As you know, since March I’ve been defending the paper on two fronts, the media misreporting and the complaint made to the journal. In March you were concerned that my attempt to publish a reply to the misreporting might make things worse, in view of the complaint. But even so, I’m sure you appreciate that scholars should not have to accept this kind of misreporting. It did take time and effort to correct – in part, I believe, because its framing of my analysis was then reinforced as if the journalist’s misreading of my paper was correct, despite my clear advice to the contrary. (I have cc’d Glyn who is aware of my dealings with the newspaper.)

I also understand the concern you raised about my demand in June that the complaint to the journal be withdrawn, which you took as an intention on my part to pursue legal action. What I did not make as clear as I might have is that by “other channels” I had in mind media channels such as The Conversation. In the commentary TC published the following week, I reiterated my critique of the prevailing narrative about OECD metrics. As with my Australian piece in August, my critique did not suggest some kind of sector-wide conspiracy in which scholars and vice-chancellors wilfully “misuse” OECD data. That was the ridiculous premise of the March misreporting; and also the premise of any serious concern about the paper’s title which (as far as I can tell) appears to inform the subsequent complaint to the journal, despite my explanations of what the title refers to.

Looking back, I assumed you were fully aware of the nature of the complaint. But perhaps not, so here is what happened: on 14 March the editor advised that the complainant had “requested that in the event that you (the author) do not retract the article, that I include a statement disassociating the Journal from “Sharrock’s breach of ethics”. The exact nature of this “breach” have never been made clear to me, but the publisher advised that this was a “threat of legal action”. I asked for details, and was then advised that the complainant’s “request” for retraction had been made informally to the editor who “advised that there were no specific complaints made to him in writing about the article by (the complainant)”. So, an apparently informal, indirect and opaque threat. But hard to ignore since, under the publishing contract, in the event of litigation the author indemnifies the publisher for any damages, and also for any legal costs.

This is why I did not welcome advice to stop trying to defend my paper and “move on”. As you know I did not agree to retract the paper. But in the event the publisher suspended publication in late March anyway, citing legal risk and adverse media. Since the complaint arose I have offered to make edits, offered apologies for lack of clarity, rechecked quotes to reconfirm they are not “out of context”, and responded to poorly framed criticisms of the paper, without receiving any further response from the complainant. Having drafted my edits and an apologetic corrigendum in March, for three months I forwarded my own responses on to the journal editor and publisher and checked with them to see if there had been correspondence, or if the complaint had been withdrawn. By June it seemed clear that the complainant would never be satisfied, and that the legal threat would remain.

Meanwhile, the media misreporting still had not yet been corrected. I did not become aware until June that the complaint had framed my paper as some kind of personal campaign or “vendetta”. Yet if that were so, my Conversation pieces on the topic in October last year and June this year could easily have targeted the complainant, who has been the most visible promoter of the OECD data narrative. I could also have named the complainant in my media correction in August. But so far I have refrained from such as step.

I hope this serves to clarify what my own concerns have been, and the approach I’ve taken to defending the paper. In March I tried to address the complaint with minor edits, as the editor suggested. But this hard to do without the full details of the complaint; and the legal risk aspect appears to have loomed large. Since then the editor has never discussed the adequacy of my proposed edits; and no-one with the journal has been willing to advise me of any of their dealings with the complainant. Since all this has unfolded over a period of months, you’ll appreciate that I’ve found it frustrating. I still see the complaint as vexatious, the paper as defensible, and a right of reply in the journal as the most appropriate way to address any substantive concern. Accordingly I have asked members of the journal’s editorial board to review its process for handling the matter. Regards, Geoff

There was no reply from Richard, that day or the next. I scrolled back through my email to his September note on the new Marginson book.

I was keen to read it, and perhaps write a review for The Conversation. My PhD work on university leadership, years before, had drawn on his writing quite a bit. As I recalled, in a book he’d co-authored on power and governance he’d observed that, for university managers, tactics often dictate that academic values must be side-stepped. As for governance, they were often as flexible as needs be … united by a common interest in the pragmatics of power and career…

Food for thought, I had mused that Friday afternoon. I still hadn’t heard from the Journal editorial group. Before leaving the office, I decided to print off the book and take it with me. And wait! I still hadn’t got back to that USQ postgrad who’d asked me for the paper, weeks before. I’d been hoping its status would be clearer before responding… As the printer ran, I sent off a quick note, with a copy and warning.

From: Geoff Sharrock
Sent: Friday, 14 October 2016 5:42 PM
To: Troy Heffernan
Subject: Re: Your latest article in Higher Education Policy and Management. 

Dear Troy, Thanks for your inquiry, and please accept my apologies for the delayed reply. Attached is a copy of the paper. Following misreporting in the media in March the journal received a complaint about it. The media misreport was eventually corrected in August; but in the meantime the journal suspended the online publication. I have sought to republish it with some minor edits to clarify aspects such as the (ironic) title. But this has not happened, so the status is still uncertain – hence the error message you encountered. If you wish to cite the paper, I suggest extra care where the draft edits appear. Very short versions of the basic argument appeared in The Conversation in October 2015 and June this year. You’ll see some reference to the misreporting in the online discussions there: (links) … In sum, it’s a somewhat controversial topic, and I’d welcome any comments you may have. Kind regards, and all the best with the PhD. Geoff Sharrock 

On my way out of the building I grabbed the sheaf of printout from the photocopy room. and slipped it into my bag. Then headed off down Swanston Street to catch a train at Melbourne Central. On the crowded train I’d managed to snag a seat for the half-hour journey. I had that song on replay, yet again.  

There is freedom within / There is freedom without… There’s a battle ahead / Many battles are lost… Hey now, hey now…

I dragged the sheaf of papers out, shuffled it into a tidy rectangle, and started reading Marginson’s book. The title he’d chosen was The Dream is Over.

Imagine the odds, gentle Horatio. Is it not wondrous strange?

By Sunday morning, as I finished its final chapter, an email popped up on my phone: Your latest article in Higher Education Policy and Management. Had someone finally responded, from the Journal‘s editorial board…?

Dear Dr Sharrock, Thank you so much for sending the article … As someone whose last publication revolved around smallpox in Whitehall Palace in 1677, I can’t imagine having any media attention, let alone having to deal with media misreporting. I see now that any discussion regarding funding could attract widespread attention so I may be a little more cautious … Sincerely, Troy 

Indeed, I thought. For any scholar out of step on such topics, this is a cautionary tale…

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