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John G. Sperling, Founder Of University Of Phoenix, Dies At 93

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

John G. Sperling, a poor boy from the Missouri Ozarks who survived a cruel childhood to become a college professor and a billionaire with an idea for a university that launched a revolution in higher education, has died. He was 93.

The self-described “unintentional entrepreneur” who founded the for-profit behemoth University of Phoenix, Sperling died Friday of complications following an infection at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, Calif., said former University of Phoenix President Jorge Klor de Alva. Sperling had homes in the San Francisco Bay Area and Arizona.

Sperling was a tenured professor at San Jose State University in 1972 when he hit on the idea of an alternative institution for adult learners whose needs were not being met by traditional colleges and universities. He formally founded University of Phoenix in the mid-1970s after moving to Arizona and built the business into one of the world’s largest private higher education systems.

It now has an enrollment of 241,000 students, many of them virtual learners who never step inside a classroom.

“He had an enormous impact,” said professor William G. Tierney, an expert on for-profit education who co-directs the University of Southern California’s Pullias Center for Higher Education. “What he realized was there were working adults who wanted to take classes at a convenient time and location and who were willing to pay money for it. … As an idea, it was really quite remarkable.”

Although profit-making schools had existed for 100 years, mainly for people seeking to learn a trade, Sperling greatly expanded the concept, creating a degree-granting institution that aimed for the breadth of any conventional university. His efforts met with ridicule from academics and state regulators who said it was unethical to make a profit off students and derided him for lowering standards for a diploma. Critics dubbed Sperling’s enterprise “McUniversity.”

On the verge of bankruptcy several times in the early years, Sperling persevered because, he insisted, profits were the ultimate measure of education success.

“For years the troops would say, ‘Sperling, are you in this to improve education or make money?’ And I had a mantra: If we don’t make money, we won’t improve education. You understand that? You have to have money to survive,” he told the Arizona Republic in 2000.

Nearly 40 years later, it still has many detractors, including government officials concerned about low graduation rates and other high student loan default rates. But even critics agree that Sperling’s vision transformed higher education, which has adopted many of his innovative ideas, particularly distance learning. The for-profit sector now comprises 11 percent of higher education in the United States, Tierney said.

Sperling was also an iconoclast outside the education sphere. His wealth enabled him to pursue offbeat causes, from financing initiatives to decriminalize marijuana use to research that could extend human life. He even backed a company to clone pets, eventually succeeding at replicating his beloved dog, Missy.

“He was a man who was not afraid of anything but boredom,” said Klor de Alva, who knew Sperling for more than 40 years.

One of six children, John Glen Sperling was born on Jan. 9, 1921, in a log cabin in Willow Springs, Mo. His childhood was an ordeal. When he was 7 he developed pneumonia and required surgery to drain his lung. The doctors operated on him using only a local anesthetic, rendering him so weak he was in bed for a year.

He said his mother was the most important person in his life, while describing his father as a failed farmer who regularly beat him. When Sperling was about 10 he warned his father that if he ever hit him again he would kill him in his sleep. The beatings stopped. When he was 15, his father died. Sperling called that day “the happiest day of my life” in his memoir, “Rebel With a Cause” (2000).

He graduated from high school unable to read, finding out much later that he was dyslexic. His real education began when he joined the merchant marine and was introduced to literature by fellow sailors, who lent him works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dostoyevsky as well as political tracts by Marx. He embraced socialism.

After serving in the Army Air Forces, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Oregon’s Reed College in 1948. He received a master’s in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and, in 1955, a doctorate in 18th-century English mercantile history from King’s College at the University of Cambridge.

He was hired to teach at Ohio State University but grew to loathe academic culture, especially faculty parties featuring “either a tuna or a macaroni casserole and cheap red wine,” he wrote in his memoir.

In 1960 he moved to San Jose State to teach humanities. He led a faculty strike in support of black studies programs that turned many of his colleagues into enemies.

Although a fiasco from a labor organizing standpoint, it taught Sperling an important lesson. “Ignore your detractors and those who say that what you are doing is wrong, against regulations, or illegal,” he wrote.

In 1972 he ran a federally funded project to teach police officers and schoolteachers about juvenile delinquency. When his students told him they wished they could take more classes and earn degrees, Sperling pitched the idea to his superiors. They shot it down.

Convinced he could succeed, Sperling took a leave of absence and approached the University of San Francisco, which saw his experiment as a potential boon to its ailing finances. Taking $26,000 in savings, Sperling affiliated with the university and started the Institute for Community Research and Development in 1974. It quickly gained popularity with evening and weekend classes convenient for working adults and an egalitarian approach that banned lectures, emphasizing learning as a partnership between teacher and student.

In 1976 he moved to Arizona, which had few regulations to stymie his expansion. Although Arizona officials and members of the higher education establishment fought his efforts to gain accreditation, he prevailed and named his enterprise University of Phoenix.

His survivors include his son, Peter, who is company chairman. Twice divorced (he once described himself as “not co-habitable”), he is also survived by two grandchildren, his longtime companion, Joan Hawthorne, and Missy 2, the clone of his long-departed dog.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Writer Who Brought Strong Women To Mysteries, Dies At 98

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

Dorothy Salisbury Davis, who gained distinction as a “grand master” of mystery writing with tautly spun novels and short stories that portrayed women as strong, complex characters instead of the more usual helpless damsels and femmes fatale, died Aug. 3 in Palisades, N.Y. She was 98.

The cause was complications of age, said her friend and executor Laurie Ferguson.

Davis wrote 20 novels and dozens of stories during a five-decade career that brought six Edgar Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America. She was an early member of the group, which included Ellery Queen and Georges Simenon, and served as president in 1956. She was named a grand master of the society in 1985 for lifetime achievement.

A mordant wit with an infectious smile, Davis crested to fame in the 1950s with novels such as “The Judas Cat,” “A Gentle Murderer,” and “A Town of Masks.” Although she did not shy from violence in her stories — she murdered people and pets in the first pages — she preferred psychological suspense to drive her plots, exploring the minds of her characters as they faced crises that brought out their worst sides.

“She focuses on people’s interior struggles much more than other thriller or crime writers do,” said best-selling mystery writer Sara Paretsky, who knew Davis for 28 years. “She doesn’t see some people as wicked and some as good. She sees people as having both qualities within them and circumstances, ambition or insecurity as leading you to do more of one than the other.”

Although she wrote prolifically through the 1960s and ’70s, Davis faded from popularity, along with other women who had excelled in the genre, such as Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Charlotte Armstrong, and Margaret Millar.

Editor Sarah Weinman called them part of a forgotten generation of female suspense writers whose subtle examination of human behavior in domestic settings faded from bookstores even as women made advances in other fields. Davis was the last surviving author of the 14 whom Weinman selected for her 2013 anthology of domestic suspense fiction, “Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.”

Born in Chicago on April 26, 1916, Davis was adopted at age 1 by Alfred Salisbury, a tenant farmer, and his Irish immigrant wife, Margaret. Growing up in rural Illinois and Wisconsin, she did not find out she was adopted until she was 17. “The whole room tilted over on its side and then somehow fell back into place again,” she once said of the shock of learning her origins. “I put everything back the way I found it. Except me.”

She graduated from a Catholic high school during the Depression and at her father’s urging became a housemaid. When her mother found out where she was working, she “scooped her up and drove from college to college until she found one that would give her a scholarship,” Ferguson said. “Her mother was not well-educated, but she believed in Dorothy and education.”

Davis studied English and history at Barat College in Lake Forest, Ill., graduating in 1938. For a few years she worked as a magician’s assistant but found it a lonely job with irregular and measly pay. Later, nearly every novel she wrote had a seedy magician or other character who played on people’s fascination with the supernatural.

She later worked in public relations and was a magazine editor. Her love of theater led her to meet Harry Davis, an actor and stage manager, whom she married in 1946. They moved to New York and, with his encouragement, she began to write.

Her first novel, “The Judas Cat,” opens with the mysterious death of a small town’s recluse, whose bloodied body is found in his undisturbed home. The only witness — and possible culprit — appears to be his cat.

Scribner’s editor Burroughs Mitchell told Davis that he liked the manuscript but that it lacked a denouement. Davis often told how she quickly agreed to provide one, then raced home to look up denouement in the dictionary. The new ending she crafted evidently satisfied Scribner’s, which published the book to strong reviews in 1949.

Over the next decades she tried other kinds of writing, including historical fiction, but her suspense novels garnered the widest attention. She encouraged other writers, particularly women, and provided crucial backing and credibility when Paretsky and other female mystery writers formed the support group Sisters in Crime in 1987.

That year brought Davis’ last novel, “The Habit of Fear,” one of four books in a series featuring Julie Hayes, an erstwhile psychic and struggling journalist in a highly dysfunctional marriage who is one of the most memorable of Davis’ heroines.

Although a new generation of female mystery writers was rising in the 1980s and 1990s, Davis was “undeservedly forgotten,” Paretsky said. “She said a number of times that she felt she already died because your work is you and her work was out of print.”

Last year, however, her spirits were lifted when digital publisher Open Road Media reprinted 22 titles, including her most popular novel, “A Gentle Murderer” (1951), inspired by a man Davis saw on the subway who was weighed down by a package shaped like a hammer.

Davis, who had no immediate survivors, stopped writing novels after her husband died in 1993, but she continued to produce short stories. One of her last stories was “Dies Irae,” sparked in part by her memories of a grandfather who went to prison for murder. It was published in 2007 when she was 91.

She continued to think like a writer even as she wrestled with numerous health crises.

During a visit to the emergency room last spring, Ferguson recalled, “she looked at me and said, ‘I’m getting a lot of material for my next story here.’ She was taking notes.”

Photo: Chris via Flickr

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Curt Gentry, Co-Author Of Bestseller On Manson Murders, Dies At 83

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

Curt Gentry, a California historian who wrote or co-wrote more than a dozen books, including a bestselling biography of J. Edgar Hoover and the true-crime classic “Helter Skelter” about the Manson family murders, written with former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, died July 10 in San Francisco. He was 83.

His brother and sole survivor, Pat Gentry, said the cause was lung cancer.

Gentry had wide-ranging interests as a historian. His works included “The Madams of San Francisco” (1964), an irreverent history of the city, and “Frame-Up: The Incredible Case of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings” (1967), about two labor leaders convicted and later pardoned for a notorious 1916 bombing in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also co-wrote memoirs by American gun designer John M. Browning and U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers.

He was best known for “Helter Skelter” (1974), a spellbinding chronicle of the grisly murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles in August 1969, flaws in the official investigation, and the sensational trials of Charles Manson and his gang that followed.

Gentry conducted extensive interviews with Bugliosi and reviewed thousands of pages of trial transcripts to help the prosecutor produce what Time magazine critic Paul Gray called “a valuable book on a lurid subject … a record of savagery and official bungling.” The New York Times praised the authors for telling the tale “in the language of a D.A.: methodical, tight, occasionally ironical, and rising to emotional pitch only on rare occasions.”

“‘All I want is the facts, ma’am’ — Curt was that type of writer,” Bugliosi said Monday, adding, “I could not have done this without Curt. … He had a way of telling people they were going to be surprised without telling them what it was.”

The book won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and, with 7 million copies sold, remains one of the most widely read works of true crime in American publishing history.

Gentry’s most unusual book was “The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California” (1968), an imaginative portrait of California’s culture and politics under Gov. Ronald Reagan, which opens with a dramatic account of the state falling into the Pacific Ocean after a massive earthquake. Although much of it was factual, editors at Putnam debated whether to classify it as fiction or nonfiction. Los Angeles Times critic Art Seidenbaum praised it as “a wild sort of obituary — death in the form of future fantasy.”

His most consuming project was “J. Edgar Hoover,” the 1991 biography of the controversial, long-serving FBI director. Gentry spent 15 years researching and writing about the powerful, eccentric man who ran the bureau for almost half a century.

Based on more than 300 interviews, including with scores of former FBI agents, and 100,000 pages of previously classified documents, the book included new information about Hoover’s tactics and obsessions, including running a school in the Justice Department attic where agents learned to conduct burglaries.

The son of a clerk, Gentry was born June 13, 1931, in Lamar, Colo. He briefly attended the University of Colorado before entering the U.S. Air Force in 1950. His tour of duty included a year in Korea during the Korean War as editor of an Air Force newspaper.

After completing his military service he returned to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1957 from San Francisco State College. He worked in a bookstore for several years until he decided to devote himself full time to writing. He became a stalwart of the literary scene in the city’s bohemian North Beach district, where his close friends included writers Evan S. Connell Jr., Don Carpenter, and Richard Brautigan.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Lillian B. Rubin, Sociologist And Best-Selling Author, Dies At 90

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

Lillian B. Rubin, who at midlife became a sociologist, psychotherapist and best-selling author of books that examined race, class, and the sexual revolution from the viewpoint of those caught in society’s shifts, died June 17 at her San Francisco home. She was 90.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Marci Rubin.

A prolific writer well into her 80s, Rubin wrote a dozen books, including “Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-class Family” (1976), a classic sociological study exploring the strains and struggles in blue-collar life; “Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together” (1983), about how differences between the sexes affect matters such as sexuality, work and parenting; and “Quiet Rage: Bernie Goetz in a Time of Madness” (1986), about racism’s “new respectability” in the wake of the sensational “subway vigilante” case of the early 1980s.

Raised in poverty by an abusive mother, Rubin had a deep personal connection to some of her subjects, particularly “The Transcendent Child: Tales of Triumph Over the Past” (1996) and “Tangled Lives: Daughters, Mothers and the Crucible of Aging” (2000).

“What strikes you is the variety of her work, but I think her driving interest was social class, and then race,” said longtime friend Arlie Hochschild, a retired University of California, Berkeley, sociologist known for her scholarship on women, gender, and work. “She had an eye for those who got stuck, lost and left behind.”

Rubin could have been one of the lost. Born Jan. 13, 1924, in Philadelphia, she was one of two children of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. Her father, a furrier, died when she was 5. Her illiterate mother moved the family to New York where she did piece work in the garment industry.

In “The Transcendent Child,” Rubin described her mother force-feeding her vegetables until she choked, swallowed, or vomited. Her mother favored her brother, Leonard, and frequently told her “Girls shouldn’t be born.”

“I was seven years old when, bewildered by her rage and hurt by her rejection, I began consciously to remove myself psychologically from the family scene,” Rubin wrote. “It was then that I first said to myself clearly, I won’t be like her.”

She graduated from high school at 15, married at 19, and had a baby soon after. In 1952 she moved with her family to Los Angeles, where she managed congressional campaigns for progressive candidates. In 1959 her marriage ended in divorce.

Through her political work she met Hank Rubin and married him in 1962. They moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he wrote a wine column for the San Francisco Chronicle and ran restaurants that helped spur the Berkeley food movement.

In 1963, Lillian Rubin launched the next stage of her life: At 39 she entered UC Berkeley as an undergraduate. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1967, followed by a master’s in 1968 and a doctorate in sociology in 1971. She worked for many years as a research sociologist at the university’s Institute for the Study of Social Change.

She and her daughter were students at the university at the same time. In 1967, as anti-Vietnam War protests were heating up, they joined a peaceful demonstration at the Oakland induction center and wound up in jail along with 70 other women, including folk singer Joan Baez and her mother. The Chronicle’s Herb Caen noted the arrests of “Hank Rubin’s wife and daughter” in his column.

In her last years Rubin wrote about death, including a 2012 piece for Salon in which she disclosed her plan to end her life if illness or frailty made it unbearable. Blind in one eye and in pain from a number of ailments, she did not want to wind up like her husband, who died in 2011 after a decade-long decline into dementia.

“She could not brook people who tried to talk about the glories of aging. Her last year was really bad,” said Marci Rubin, who survives her along with a grandson and a great-grandson.

Her suicide plan was, in the end, unnecessary. On the day before she died, she had taken a bus and a cab to the doctor’s office by herself, then spent the afternoon in long conversation with an old friend, Anita Hill, before having dinner with her daughter. She died in her own bed of natural causes.

Photo: Castles, Capes & Clones via Flickr

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Fouad Ajami, Lebanese-born Scholar, Author, And Commentator, Dies At 68

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese-born scholar, author, and commentator who helped shape American discourse on Middle Eastern affairs with lyrical portraits of the troubled region that illuminated Arab consciousness and politics, died of cancer Sunday at his home in Maine. He was 68.
His death was announced by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he was a senior fellow since 2011.

An adviser to the George W. Bush administration, Ajami strongly supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a stance that made him either famous or infamous depending on one’s opinions. One critic described him as “an alienated Arab intellectual” who espoused Western conservative political values.

He wrote eloquently about Iraq in his 2006 book The Foreigner’s Gift, which critics said amply illustrated how important, if idiosyncratic, his voice was in the complicated debates over that country’s problems.

“He wasn’t in the mainstream, but you couldn’t ignore him,” Charles Hill, a Middle East expert at Yale University and former Reagan State Department aide, said in an interview Monday. “American discourse about the Middle East was not really on target … pulled in one direction or another from both ends of the political spectrum. The result is people don’t really understand what’s going on. He was able through his powerful prose to point that out. And he was fearless in doing so.”

Ajami was disliked by some members of the Arab American community for using terms such as “tribal,” “atavistic,” “clannish,” and “backward” to describe contemporary Arab politics. Edward Said, the Palestinian American cultural critic who died in 2003, accused him of “unmistakably racist prescriptions.”

Although controversial, Ajami was broadly praised for lucid and evocative writing. “He writes poetry, practically,” said former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, a Hoover Institution colleague who spent many hours talking with Ajami about the Middle East. “His information was firsthand. … He was somebody who was widely read whenever he published something.”

Ajami also was noted for The Vanished Imam (1986), about the controversial, Iranian-born Shia Muslim cleric Sayyid Musa al Sadr, who disappeared en route to a 1978 meeting with Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and “The Dream Palace of the Arabs” (1998), which examines the clash between modern ideals and ancient political realities through a series of essays on Arab writers.

Ajami was descended from tobacco growers who belonged to the minority Shia sect; his great-grandfather immigrated to Lebanon from Iran in the mid-1850s. He was born Sept. 9, 1945, in Amoun, a small village in south Lebanon near the border of what is now Israel. He grew up secular in Beirut.

At 13, he was swept up by talk of Arab nationalism and took a bus to Damascus to hear Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser speak about the movement. “It was a time of innocence. Around the corner, it was believed, lay a great Arab project, and this leader from Egypt would bring it about,” Ajami wrote in The Dream Palace of the Arabs.

In 1963, a few days before his 18th birthday, he left with his family for the United States. He attended Eastern Oregon College before earning a doctorate in international relations from the University of Washington. He became a naturalized citizen in 1964.

He taught political science and international studies at Princeton University before moving to Johns Hopkins University, where he became director of Middle East studies in 1980. He won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1982.

He made frequent reporting trips to the Middle East, where he interviewed leaders as well as ordinary citizens. One of his last books was The Syrian Rebellion (2012), which New York Times reviewer Dexter Filkins called “an elegant and edifying book, written on the fly” about Syria in the midst of the historic upheaval that erupted in early 2011.

Ajami is survived by his wife, Michelle.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Adrianne Wadewitz, Scholar Who Helped Diversify Wikipedia, Dies At 37

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — When Adrianne Wadewitz became a Wikipedia contributor 10 years ago she decided to use a pseudonym, certain that fellow scholars at Indiana University would frown on writing for the often-maligned “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

But Wadewitz eventually came out as a Wikipedian, the term the encyclopedia uses to describe the tens of thousands of volunteers who write and edit its pages. A rarity as a woman in the male-centric Wikipedia universe, she became one of its most valued and prolific contributors as well as a force for diversifying its ranks and demystifying its inner workings.

Her goal was “empowering everyday Internet users to be critical of how information is produced on the Internet and move beyond being critical to making it better,” said Alexandra Juhasz, a Pitzer College professor of media studies who worked with Wadewitz to address gender bias in Wikipedia.

Wadewitz, who trained scores of people, particularly women, to participate in Wikipedia as editors, died April 8 in Palm Springs, California, 10 days after sustaining head injuries in a fall while rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, said her partner Peter B. James. She was 37.

A postdoctoral fellow at Occidental College’s Center for Digital Learning and Research, Wadewitz worked with faculty and students to use technology and the Internet effectively in the classroom. As a campus ambassador for Wikipedia, she also tackled widespread skepticism about the online source’s trustworthiness and biases.

An expert on 18th-century English literature, she merged her interests in Wikipedia, where she wrote articles on famous writers like Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft and pioneering female rock climbers like Steph Davis and Lynn Hill.

Legendary in the Wikipedia world, Wadewitz had more than 50,000 “edits” or contributions to her credit. She also was the author of 36 “featured” articles, the highest distinction bestowed by other Wikipedians based on accuracy, fairness, style and comprehensiveness.

“She was one of the top 10 editors in terms of producing a lot of high-quality content,” said Sue Gardner, executive director of Wikimedia Foundation, the San Francisco-based nonprofit that operates Wikipedia. “Wikipedia is full of brilliant, talented people. She really stood out.”

Wadewitz did not fit the profile of the typical Wikipedia editor. According to a 2011 Wikimedia Foundation survey, only 9 percent of more than 100,000 Wikipedians are women, and of those, 22 percent reported that editing for Wikipedia was “an unpleasant experience.”

When Wadewitz emerged from behind her moniker (she initially identified herself as “Awadewit”) she was greeted by a range of responses from other Wikipedians that spurred her to think about the website’s gender gap.

“When I used my real name, all of a sudden there was a lot of commentary,” she told a Scripps College audience earlier this year. “‘Oh, you’re a woman’ or ‘You can’t really be a woman’ or ‘You don’t write like a woman.’ Or all of a sudden my arguments were not taken as seriously or were judged as hysterical or emotional. … So I got much more interested in why this was happening.”

She began to cast herself as a bridge between Wikipedia and a distrustful public that regarded the online encyclopedia as unreliable and error-prone. She began leading workshops called “edit-a-thons” where she took participants on a tour of the website and explained how entries are produced, vetted and constantly updated and revised.

“Archivists take Wikipedia with a grain of salt,” said Liza Posas, archivist and librarian at the Autry National Center, who attended Wadewitz’s workshop for the L.A. as Subject research alliance. “You think there’s a troll behind the screen and don’t know what’s going on, what’s the accountability. She walked us through this great unknown, Wikipedia land. She put us at ease.”

She also pointed out the encyclopedia’s shortcomings. The website’s gender gap has been the subject of much discussion as critics like Wadewitz have pointed out disparities not only in the number of female Wikipedians but in the treatment of women subjects and decisions about who or what is worth including. On the day Prince William married Kate Middleton, for example, an entry about Middleton’s vaunted wedding gown was nominated for deletion, prompting pro and con comments from editors. Even Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales leaped into the fray, noting that the website had more than 100 articles on Linux operating systems and perhaps needed more stories on famous dresses.

In another example, Wadewitz wrote about sharply different interpretations of a plot point in an 18th-century novella, with one characterizing an incident as rape and another as a case of a female character who “succumbs to her desires.” Both viewpoints could be valid, but only one could be included in the plot summary, a problem Wadewitz said shows that “who writes Wikipedia matters.”

“Wikipedia needs to recruit women, yes, but, more importantly, it needs to recruit feminists,” she wrote on her blog last year. “And feminists can be of any gender.”

Wadewitz was born Jan. 6, 1977, in Omaha and grew up there and in North Platte, Nebraska. The only child of the Rev. Dr. Nathan R. Wadewitz, a Lutheran pastor, and Betty M. Wadewitz, a nurse and attorney, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Columbia University in 1999 and a doctorate from Indiana University in British literature in 2011.

Her parents survive her along with James, a photographer.

When she first began taking rock-climbing classes she “felt silly because I could not do basic exercises that seemed effortless for other people,” she wrote last year in an essay, “What I Learned as the Worst Student in the Class.” In time she celebrated her successes, such as the first time she balanced on a small foothold.

“For me, one of the most empowering outcomes of my year of climbing has been the new narrative I can tell about myself. I am no longer ‘Adrianne: scholar, book lover, pianist, Wikipedian.’ I am now ‘Adrianne; scholar, book lover, pianist, Wikipedian, and rock climber.’”

Flickr via Giulia Forsythe