Our Favorite Martin

David Pacchioli
June 01, 1996

A light has gone out on the prairie.

Roger Martin, editor at the University of Kansas, has doused his research magazine, Explore.

The cessation had been rumored, but a final installment, in spring of last year, made it official. No longer will we thrill to the cosmic curiosity and occasional high jinks of Martin and staff as they bend the limits of research-magazine journalism.

I'm being melodramatic, of course. In the scheme of things, one could say, the end of Explore-ation doesn't mean all that much. Heck, one might even applaud. Without Roger's skewed vision finding its way into print every few months, this world is a little more . . . functional.

Just what we need.

There is the not inconsiderable solace that Roger will continue to be Roger. He will no doubt find ways to inject life and warmth into the next project he takes up. (Already has, in fact. I've seen the scripts of some of his new radio essays. Look out, Frank Deford.) What is hard to swallow, however, is Roger's own argument for giving his magazine the hose.

I could understand, sympathize, if he said he was flat-out tired of producing it. Fourteen years as both oarsman and overseer might do that to a guy. But what Roger said in his farewell text was something else. He said, in effect, that he couldn't keep up any more. Not he, personally—Roger's not getting any older than the rest of us—but his magazine. Explore, he was afraid, could no longer cut it in the fast-paced info age. People, said Roger, don't have time to read a research magazine anymore. "It's a USA Today world out there," is the way he put it.

I am not ready to concede this point.

Yes, people are pressed for time. But they are also hungry, many of them, for just the kind of stuff that Roger's magazine provided: thought-provoking forays into places the rest of us don't get to go. (Here's Roger locked in a room with three political scientists, badgering them into candid comments about the future of democracy; there's Roger, all but scrubbed, goggled, and gowned, dissecting a viral particle for our edification.)

Sometimes it's hard to quantify this hunger. If Roger's like us, he doesn't get many letters. (Writing people don't have time for.) But I think it's there. We hear things. And mostly what we hear is that people are glad for the bridge to a world they might never have ventured into.

If it is true that things are spinning faster and faster (the earth isn't, by the way), then isn't slowing things down a big part of a university's reason for being? Slowing them down enough, that is, to see them clearly? Doesn't it cut to the very core of a university's mission to demonstrate that there is life beyond USA Today?

The other factor, evidently, came from outside Roger's office. It had to do with whether Explore was reaching certain busy decision makers with his university's "research message." Some folks, it seems, expressed concerns about the magazine's being "highbrow."

Pardon, but isn't being just a little bit "highbrow" sort of a distinguishing characteristic of a university? And—for the sake of all of us and, yes, our future—shouldn't it be?

Besides, a research magazine, if it's any good, is not really "highbrow" at all; more like the opposite. It evokes some portion of what's best in a place, holds up what's fascinating—so that everybody can see it. It advances a modest proposal of sorts to a constituency as diverse as a university's, a bargain like this:

The explosion was so hot it melted David Hurlbut's hard hat. Eyelids were his first graft.

An eyelid graft should color-match neighboring skin—but facial skin is darker than other skin. It's also the only kind that blushes. "If you can avoid grafting on the face," says resident Rich Bene, of the KU Burn Center, "you'd like to."

Hey Roger, want to write for Research/Penn State?

Last Updated June 01, 1996