Sometimes it’s good to step back from those three-hour conference room meetings or vendor calls from Hell and just laugh at yourself for a bit. Working in higher ed is a demanding, non-stop job but there’s plenty of opportunities to find humor in most situations.
With headlines like Forward-Thinking College Admits New Students Via Evite and Orientation Staffs Devestated by Global Glitter Shortage, the satirical higher education blog The Cronk of Higher Education offers a nice escape.
I had the chance to speak with Leah Wescott, the editor of The Cronk of Higher Education. Well, I don’t really know her true identity, but here’s the interview…
Mike: Are you the sole creator of The Cronk of Higher Education? How did the idea come to you?
Leah: I’m the one to blame. I’ve been working in higher education for about fifteen years, at a variety of institutions. After a few moves, I shed some naivete and recognized that the same ridiculous things happen everywhere. Despite the best efforts of my supervisors, I never shed my know-it-all pest tendencies. I still believe we can live up to our missions, and I’m always looking for ways to fix everything.
Last June, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea to blend my idealism with my frustrations. I pulled out my laptop at 4:00 a.m., and by the time the sun came up, I’d written four pages of satirical headlines. Two days later, I bought a domain name and The Cronk of Higher Education was born.
Mike: Where do you go for your humor? Any websites in particular? Books? TV shows?
Leah: I’ve loved The Onion since the days when you could only get it in paper form. Writers who push the boundaries of political correctness are my favorite geniuses. Tina Fey, Dorothy Parker and Dave Chappelle are some of my favorites. When I’m short on ideas, I turn to the real Chronicle of Higher Ed and other college news sources where oh-so-serious higher ed folks hang out.
Mike: What’s your process for developing stories? Do you work like the Onion and develop headlines first, then write the story afterwards? Do you have a team of editors that approve the stories?
Leah: I have a crack team of core writers I rely on for brilliant material, advice and support. Brody Truce and Irma Pelt are my dream team of cyber-officemates. They 100% understand the philosophy of the Cronk, and they make my stomach hurt because their writing makes me laugh so hard. This June will be the first time we’re all in one room at the same time. We’ll toast the first birthday of CronkNews and refine the vision for our benevolent conspiracies.
In day-to-day writing, headlines usually come first for me. If I can craft a solid title, the article will usually write itself. The CronkNews editing structure is a monarchy. (That sounds better than dictatorship, right?) I’m the queen. I select and edit the articles, including my own. I’ve written enough articles to allow myself a two month gap between my writing and editing, so my stories look new to me. Luckily, I have writers so good I have to take very little time away from my eBay shoe addictions to tweak their stories.
Mike: What makes a Cronk News story funny to you?
Leah: My favorites are the ones that take sharp aim at our own profession. The drier the better. In a great article, I hope someone at any college in the country could read the story and think, “They’re talking about our campus. Uh oh – I think they’re talking about me.”
Mike: Why do you think it’s important for The Cronk of Higher Education to “help to take a bite out of the taking-itself-too-seriously vibe of higher education”?
Leah: Remember that three-hour staff meeting you sat through last week? The one where you wanted to stab your eyes out and scream “Am I the crazy one here?!?!” Don’t worry. The Cronk has your back.
Mike: Do you ever get negative feedback from schools if a story hits a little too close to home?
Leah: Surprisingly little. I’m fairly sure that’s not a good thing.
Mike: How can writers or other bloggers get involved? Do you take guest submissions? What advice do you have for them?
Leah: We have begun to accept submissions on a limited basis. I can give advice and try to coach writers, but if they don’t have an intuitive understanding of our mission and philosophy, they’ll have a tough time hitting the mark. I haven’t found the magic way to explain, “You have to be a funny self-deprecating sadist – oh, and a good writer.” If you are that person, send us your stuff. Submission guidelines are on the site.
Mike: Where do you plan to take the Cronk of Higher Education?
Leah: Realistically, our complete and utter domination of all universities everywhere will take a little while. We’d like to start by attracting 4140 loyal readers. That’s one per every college in the U.S. In the meantime, next year, we’ll have our first edition of the Cronk of Higher Education book!
Early this summer, I’m going to offer myself out for free speaking engagements. Despite my years of experience, I’m starting from scratch as “Leah Wescott.” If I educate and entertain your students or staff, you can pay me with an over-the-top gushingly positive testimonial for my flashy self-promoting trifold brochures. If you hate me, we’ll just keep that our little secret.