Contemplating Online Academic Publishing

This post began as a comment on Laura Blankenship’s Emerging Technologies Consulting blog. Laura noted that the topic of online academic publishing and how it relates to tenure and other institutional academic concerns was going to be part of her formal role as a speaker/leader at this year’s Faculty Academy. My response was as follows:

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say in May. This is a particularly tough issue and one that has gotten a great deal of resistance when broached (at UMW and elsewhere) in formal or informal ways in a variety of conversations I’ve been a part of lately.

On one hand the change to a new system is always complicated (and frankly, even in the old system, the disciplinary differences are enough to make university-wide review committees shudder–e.g., how many psychology articles equal a book in history? I have my own argument, but all would agree that my perspective on this is fairly biased). So, that resistance isn’t that surprising.

Yet, on the surface, online publishing should make a lot of things easier, not harder, to assess for tenure and/or merit pay:

1) Financial limitations that restrict #/size/scope of published works exist on a completely different scale in the online world, especially once a system for peer-reviewed academic e-publishing is built.

1a) It seems almost a no-brainer that scholarly journals should move on-line completely (or at least in part) given the large percentage of costs that publishing those journals entails.

2) Measuring impact — There must be some way of measuring the number of readers/links/hits/formal citations in other peer-reviewed articles or books/presence in syllabi. Now, obviously these things could be gamed (i.e., hits and uniques) or narrowed by restrictive access to some of the examples (BB course syllabi aren’t accessible, for example, nor are many online, but peer-reviewed articles in collections like JSTOR).

I’m sure there are many things I’m forgetting/overlooking here, but I’m really looking forward to Laura’s exploration of the topic in May. Every institution needs to have that conversation.

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  1. I agree that this is a no-brainer, and important for the profession as well. So many academic institutions are trying to move up in the rankings by increasing the research and publication requirements for new faculty. At the same time scholarly publishing is facing a crisis. It is an insuperable situation that leaves important work unpublished and good scholars untenured.

    Online publishing can not only reduce costs but can increase the amount of scholarship a given outlet could publish. So long as peer review remains rigorous, why not?

  2. No, I agree. Peer review must remain rigorous; it’s the central part part of the process. Of course, academic peer review costs are only administrative (and with email, should be practically zero) since we do those reviews for free as part of our professional activity.

    Once an infrastructure for electronic publishing of a scholarly journal was in place then the only contribution might be time (course release(s)) from an editor’s home institution.

    We have to figure out how to get there, and sooner rather than later.

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