Review Fails to Live Up to Promise

Manish A. Mehta, Donald R. Longman '32 Professor of Chemistry

To the Editors:

Since 1874, The Oberlin Review has been the sole campus publication to bear the label “Publication of Record of Oberlin College.” Every year, I read with great patience to see if you will live up to the solemn duty that title places on you, and every year I am left sorely disappointed. A publication of record should document, in a reasonably faithful way, the life of the College. By many measures, you have failed in that special responsibility.

I note that the “Publication of Record” light has been flickering on your masthead marquis. It was absent in the mastheads to issues 8, 10, 14, 22 and 23 this year (Volume 145). While it makes me sad, I recommend that you scrap that label altogether going forward. When you discard that line from your masthead, you will experience new freedom. When you discard that line, you will join the ranks of other campus publications with their well-known agendas and biases and become just another campus paper.

When you scrap that title, I will no longer worry about fair and balanced coverage of campus goings-on in your pages. No longer will I wonder why athletics gets three pages of automatic coverage in every issue, while campus visits by internationally renowned scientists get nothing. No longer will I wonder why students in the arts are given lavish coverage in your pages for a senior art show or a recital or a play production while public presentations of first-rate scholarship by students in laboratory- or field-based sciences are ignored wholesale. No longer will I wonder why my colleagues in mathematics or neuroscience or physics are never featured in the “Off the Cuff ” segment. No longer will I need to worry about a bone you will throw to readers like me with a token story about some science-related event on campus. All those pesky wishes will simply vanish.

When you cease to be the publication of record of Oberlin College, no longer will I have to anticipate your defensive rebuttal to letters such as this that you have no reporters to cover that beat. I will not have to worry about the ignorant assumptions you make about your readership — that they are just not interested in that intellectual, geeky stuff that is all around us on this vibrant campus. I will no longer be concerned if future historians might faithfully reconstruct a picture of our campus based on coverage in your pages. You need not chronicle every event (that is not realistic), but your coverage needs to be representative of the campus cross-section, which it is decidedly not.

What I am advocating are deep structural changes to your coverage of campus happenings, because I care about The Oberlin Review. However, I am ready to throw in the towel if you will own up. Once you drop the pretense and surrender the title “Publication of Record,” you are free to pursue your coverage as you see fit, and you will not have the likes of me to hold you to the very highest standards of student journalism. Might I suggest: The Oberlin Review: Publication of Arts, Politics, Controversy, Entertainment and Athletics at Oberlin College.

– Manish A. Mehta
Donald R. Longman ’32
Professor of Chemistry