Monday, June 14, 2010

Destruction of Academia: What Can We Do to Stop It?

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a very prestigious university press where I had submitted my manuscript proposal telling me that before they even start considering the proposal I need to make sure that I will be able to pay them $1,500 for the publication of my book. Of course, I refused because this would mean perpetuating a practice that I find to be not only wrong but also extremely dangerous for the academic world at large. The question remained, though, how it is possible for a UP still to be considered prestigious if their process of selecting promising authors is based on whether these authors have money.

Then, last week I was browsing through academic journals trying to decide where to submit a new article and discovered two journals that warn authors about the amount of money ($80-$120) that they will have to pay to have their article published. This practice existed before in the form of demanding that all authors who submit articles to a certain magazine purchase a subscription to it. Today, however, even this genteel pretense has been dropped, and money for publications is being demanded openly and directly.

The saddest part of this is that we, the academics, are not doing anything to oppose the gradual monetization of our field. We all need to publish on a regular basis in order to pass our retention reviews, merit reviews, mid-point reviews, and eventually tenure reviews. This makes the academics so desperate to get published at any cost that they agree to participate in the paying for publication process. I don't think I need to explain here why this practice is extremely dangerous for research.

There is this myth that is being circulated by university administrations and that is preventing many of us from fighting these pernicious tendencies. Of course, I mean the "we don't have any money" myth. It was created long before the current economic crisis but now the crisis has given college administrators a perfect excuse to make such practices even more far-reaching. What we need to do in order to save research from an imminent demise is, first and foremost, stop believing these lies. I will only believe that there is, in fact, no money in higher education when I see administrators take significant pay cuts or, better yet, salary freezes. Administrators often get upwards of $250.000 per year, while a very tiny fraction of that amount will allow an academic journal that publishes 20 articles per year to publish them for free. There seems to be money for all kind of silliness on campuses, except for things that are directly related to intellectual endeavors. Sports facilities continue to be built, administrators' offices continue being redecorated with expensive new furniture, marketing specialists continue to be hired at incredible salaries to "promote" the university and make people consider it prestigious. In the meanwhile, academic journals that have been in existence for 80 years are allowed to go out of print because the anti-intellectual administrators think that a catchy slogan, not an intellectually respectable publication, is what makes a college prestigious.

We, the academics, need to start taking our world of knowledge away from these ignoramuses. We need to start throwing peddlers out of our ivory tower, so to speak. We need to stop believing their lies and their complaints. We need to stop paying attention to their manipulative tactics aimed at distracting us from the reality of being exploited. We need to stop manufacturing the tools of our exploitation.

Unfortunately, we have allowed things to go so far that now many sacrifices will need to be made in order to combat these destructive tendencies successfully. The first and foremost thing that we need to achieve before starting our struggle is unity among colleagues. Look, my friends, if an autistic like me is ready to proclaim that unity is sorely needed, then it has, indeed, become central to everything we do from now on. Let's stop the power struggle and the bickering between tenured and tenure-track faculty. Let's stop telling ourselves that the problems of adjuncts and lecturers have nothing to do with us as tenure-track and tenured professors. Let's stop trying to figure out which one of us is owed more respect by our colleagues, or whose publications are more prestigious, or whose life is easier. We are looking for an enemy in the wrong place when we do that. As teaching faculty, we are all in it together. And we will all go down together if the system of higher education as we know and love it collapses under the pressure of a badly digested corporate model promoted by ignorant, anti-intellectual individuals.

In our struggle, we will be forced to sacrifice a few things. When the administration tells us that a university press or an academic journal will have to pay for itself by milking desperate academics for money, we need to be prepared to let that press or that journal go. We have to refuse to teach our courses online because the administrators need to save some money to refurbish their offices. We should oppose whole areas of knowledge being destroyed because we are told (falsely, for the most part) that they don't bring any money. We must stop dumbing down our course offerings. Forget the lie that it's the students who can't see how a course on the XVI century Spanish poetry is useful to them. It's the administrators who, from the depths of their ignorance, prefer to see course catalogs filled with courses on the importance of Britney Spears for world culture. We need to be ready to say no to practices that will eventually destroy us. This will be scary and painful but unless we are prepared to do that we will lose our universities for good.


Anonymous said...

That academia has become corporatized is the problem, indeed.

How to reverse that, I have no idea. I'm not sure it's possible, but then again I have also always enjoyed fighting the long defeat.


Clarissa said...

At least, we will know that we didn't participate in this insanity. Because right now we are. We are collectively digging our own grave.

NancyP said...

The physics community has been publishing online for a zillion years - well, at least since 1985, and probably earlier. Some CERN physicist or computer science prof kept the server, and people could deposit papers for community inspection - no editorial board. The paper either sank like a stone or got talked about on the international physics BBSes/listservs.

The rest of science is catching on - there are fewer and fewer print-only journals, a majority of journals having both print and online publication, and more and more online-only journals including some that are run through peer review and some that skip peer review. The latter are a convenient dumping ground for negative results - most journals don't want to publish negative results.

A friend of mine edited an online-only journal (website) of academic papers, announcements, and amusements concerning "Dark Ages Britain". No, it isn't as prestigious as publishing in "Speculum" (the American medieval history academic journal). On the other hand, if what you have is good but is still a work in progress, or a small note, an online journal is a good fit. This friend of mine works in biomedical research, and setting up a news, paper, and discussion forum and teaching the historians about population genetics was a hobby.

Clarissa said...

Agreed! We need to fight as hard as we can to prevent those amongst us who have started the "online-publishing-is-not-prestigious".

profacero said...

Good post and yes -- nowadays, presses I'd never imagined take subventions, do.

And the rest although I am not sure how to resist; this has been going on slowly for decades.

My university, for instance, apparently gives PhDs to people the content of whose dissertations are a secret except to their companies because of copyright, trademark, etc. That means the professors have to sign off without having read, you realize.

Pagan Topologist said...

Ever since I can remember, there had been page charges for publication in most math journals. I say "had" because from what I understand, they are now uncommon. The American Mathematical Society always had the policy that individual researchers were not responsible for page charges; their institutions were. Starting in the 1960's, more and more universities stopped paying page charges. There are now profit making journals which cost libraries thousands of dollars a year for subscription, and not-for-profit journals that are supported by donations.

Being charged for having a manuscript reviewed is something new to me. It is truly outrageous. It seems only a step away from vanity publishing.

Clarissa said...

"Being charged for having a manuscript reviewed is something new to me. It is truly outrageous. It seems only a step away from vanity publishing."

-Exactly! I can't understand how it is possible that presses that do it can possibly be considered prestigious.

Clarissa said...

"My university, for instance, apparently gives PhDs to people the content of whose dissertations are a secret except to their companies because of copyright, trademark, etc. That means the professors have to sign off without having read, you realize."

-I knew that publishing this post will make me find out some scary stuff about what's going on in the academia, but this is just too much. This is so wrong!!!

Anonymous said...

As per US Ph.D confidentiality, there are somethings you can't even study without invitation. Even a totalitarian country like Iran has no such policy.