An open letter from Building Research & Information EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis

The publisher of Building Research & Information, Taylor & Francis, has recently decided to terminate Richard Lorch’s contract as Editor-in-Chief at the end of 2018. This action has sparked grave concern amongst the members of BRI’s editorial board. What follows is an open letter written by the board to the publisher. It details the concerns of the editorial board, the action that they took to try to dissuade Taylor & Francis, and the subsequent response from the publisher. All of the signatories of this letter have tendered their resignation from post.

Dear Mr Heward-Mills & Mr Delahunty,

We are aware that you have decided to terminate Richard Lorch’s contract as Editor-in-Chief of Building Research and Information on 31st December 2018. This is deeply shocking and we strenuously disagree with this decision. It is not in the best interests of the journal or the community served by the journal.

The only apparent criterion given for this decision was that an editor should have a limited period of office. This was claimed by yourselves to be an industry standard. This is not the case; we have presented you with clear evidence of long-serving editors in other excellent academic journals. Some of BRI’s esteemed and flourishing “rival” journals have had editors in post for upwards of 30 years. Indeed, Taylor & Francis’ own Construction Management & Economics editor held his post for 25 years.

As highlighted by one board member:

“The notion that a rotating editorship is ‘ …necessary to ensure the journal continues to evolve, to enable new voices and allow new networks to build on current ones‘ (quoted from correspondence received from Richard Delahunty) is spurious. There are in fact many “new voices” in BRI – a new associate editor and 12 new editorial board members, not to mention the numerous new authors who are added to the journal with each addition, all generating new networks.” (Fionn Stevenson)

We are surprised that you have not taken into account the widespread support that exists for Richard Lorch to continue and his exemplary role. You have failed to consult or involve editorial board members, associate editors, authors, readers or reviewers. Many people are aggrieved by your position:

“An inability to reconsider [your decision] reveals contempt for the associated research community: those that write the articles, review them, read them, pay for subscriptions through their libraries, and in many cases pay directly to have articles published.” (Jennifer Whyte)

Over 40 individual letters of protest from the editorial board members were sent to you. These demonstrated the broad and varied contributions that Richard Lorch makes to the Journal, and the community’s overwhelmingly positive experience of working with him. All of these communications arrived at the same conclusion that Richard must not be dismissed. Your process for arriving at a decision is one-sided and thus betrays our community’s interest and views. You have ignored us.

We have provided numerous valid reasons for retaining Richard Lorch as Editor-in-Chief. In particular, we have highlighted how he captures the diversity of research taking place in this field and keeps the journal current and vital. We noted Richard’s ability to draw a variety of disciplines together; his activity in increasing the readership of BRI, including engaging in new social media outlets and developing BRI’s influence in China; and his commitment to maintaining a diverse range of editorial board members, associate editors, reviewers, authors, and readers. Taylor & Francis have ignored or swept aside all of the evidence that was offered to them.

This dismissal of an excellent editor:

“betrays a failure at Taylor & Francis to understand how successful academic journals work: how they are built up by their editors by patient work over many years, by the editors having rich and widely spread networks of contacts, by their being in touch with all the latest developments in the field, and being able to spot future trends. Above all good editors can harness the good will and hard work – all without financial gain – of all the contributors on whom journals depend. Good editors of this kind are rare and not easily replaced.” (Philip Steadman)

Although you have lauded Richard Lorch and acknowledged his sustained accomplishments in making BRI an outstanding journal, you have been unable to offer substantive evidence-based reasons for your decision to dismiss him. The use of time as a determinant is arbitrary. A decision must be evidence-based and must take into account the performance of an editor and the journal.  Clearly, the performance of the journal and its editor are excellent.

We consider an ethical practice as one that would evaluate who benefits and who is damaged by a particular decision. There has been no process to evaluate this and we believe that your decision process was not ethical. You have dismissed the damage done to our community.

We are extremely disappointed that Taylor & Francis were unwilling to consider the reasonable compromise solution offered by BRI’s associate editors and that we all endorsed. We suggested maintaining Richard’s contract to at least 2020 to support the delivery of papers and special issues for which he has already commenced planning. We are now unable to provide guarantees of support to the authors and guest editors who had committed to these.

As a result of Taylor & Francis’ ill-considered decision and the manner in which they have conducted themselves, we are now resigning as members of the Editorial team and Board effective immediately.   If Taylor & Francis’ notion of determining the continuation of a successful editor depends upon a single and indicator that is poorly and inconsistently applied, then we find ourselves unable and unwilling to support Taylor & Francis.  Our view of the Taylor & Francis management and its suite of journals is negatively affected.

It is unfortunate that the journal will suffer as a result of your decision, as will the reputation of Taylor & Francis by the way that it arrived at it.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Wim Bakens, CIB, Netherlands

Professor Gail Brager, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Sarah Burch , University of Waterloo, Canada

Professor Edwin Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Raymond J Cole, University of British Columbia, Canada

Professor Ian Cooper, Eclipse Research Consults, UK

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Sarah Darby, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Richard de Dear, University of Sydney, Australia

Dr Michael Donn, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Chrisna du Plessis, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Professor Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

Dr Jessica Granderson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, USA

Professor Guillaume Habert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Kathryn Janda, University College London, UK

Professor Charles Kibert, University of Florida, USA

Professor Niklaus Kohler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Mr Adrian Leaman, Usable Buildings Trust, UK

Dr Mark D Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, USA

Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University, UK

Professor Robert Lowe, University College London, UK

Professor Thomas Lützkendorf, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Dr Tove Malmqvist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Professor Daniel Mueller, NTNU, Norway

Professor Shuzo Murakami, Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, Japan

Mr Robin Nicholson CBE, Cullinan Studio, UK

Dr Sarah Outcault, University of California, Davis, USA

Dr Wei Pan, University of Hong Kong, China

Dr Sofie Pelsmakers, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark

Professor Bruno Peuportier, Mines ParisTech, France

Professor Gary Pivo, University of Arizona, USA

Mr Rajan Rawal, CEPT University, India

Professor Christoph Reinhart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Professor John Robinson, University of Toronto, Canada

Dr Serge Salat, Urban Morphology Institute, France

Professor Kaixun Sha, Shandong Jianzhu University, China

Professor Geoffrey Qiping Shen, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge, UK

Professor  Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster, UK

Professor  Stefan Siedentop, Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Germany

Professor Philip Steadman, University College London, UK

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Yolande Strengers, RMIT University, Australia

Professor Henk Visscher, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Dr Faye Wade, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Professor Jennifer Whyte, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Harold Wilhite, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Yi Jiang, Tsinghua University, China

13 thoughts on “An open letter from Building Research & Information EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis”

  1. This is not the first time this has happened.
    I cannot understand why the Editorial Board was not consulted. BRI has a great reputation and much of this is due to Richard. I hope the publisher will reconsider this decision in the way that has been suggested.
    I buy my own copy of BRI and would like it to be unchanged.

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  2. Wow! The resigning board members basically constitute the Hall of Fame in our field. One wonders the fate of the excellent BR&I post-resignation. Who will contribute??? Not I.

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  3. This is shocking news. Deeply worrying. BRI is what it is because of Richard’s work and engagement! I hope and request that the publisher will re-consider the decision. As authors and reviewers we have a right to transparent decision-making. I urge Taylor & Francis to continue to work with Richard.

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  4. Under Richard’s editorship BR&I has become perhaps the most respected journal in the field, and Richard is just the right person to edit it – without him it will be much diminished.
    Rev Michael A Humphreys

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  5. Yet again, a major international publisher hammers a nail into the coffin of international academic publishing. The academic community struggles to come to terms with an arbitrary and destructive decision. There are no doubts about the qualities of Richard Lorch as an editor. He understands academic discourse and how to build an academic community. Taylor & Francis do not. And how can you manage something you don’t understand? Change it into something you do understand, instead! Maybe, instead of academic discourse, focus on colourful covers, fancy fonts and accumulating mailing lists for ad campaigns. No one is suggesting that Richard Lorch has been dismissed because he has failed to perform. He has been dismissed because he is so good at doing the things that the publishers do not understand and no longer want. Changes are afoot.

    As academics, we are used to a world where the value of academic editors is in their network of connections, their understanding of the discipline and their ability to make difficult decisions. I don’t think shareholders appreciate or like that. They want their employees to hold the power. Editors are not employees. The only reason that the publishers can think of for terminating long-running editors is that they want editors only to have a 3-5 year tenure. How can new editors develop the experience of publishing in such a brief time? How can they develop the network of contacts and the enormous stock of good will that underpin successful editorships? Perhaps the publishers are hoping that inexperienced editors will be easier to manage. Perhaps the publishers may not realise that inexperienced editors may be less effective at nurturing academic discourse than experienced editors. Maybe publishers view all content creation in the same way. If so, then they have seriously underestimated the value of academic editors. They have certainly underestimated the value of Richard Lorch. This was a stupid decision that alienates authors and readers in equal measure. The biggest losers in this will be Taylor & Francis, themselves. But they do not think so.

    I guess that academic communities are increasingly being pushed to contemplate a world without voracious international publishers charging astronomical prices for academic journals. There are things about producing papers for which many authors need support. We have grown to depend on arcane processes of copy-editing, type-setting, image-sourcing and graphics-editing. But all these functions are now outsourced by publishers. Whichever way you look at it, we don’t need them anymore. The future may lie in Community Open Source publishing, or in some other model. Let’s open a discussion on where we go next in our task of maintaining discourse among our specific communities.

    Professor Will Hughes, School of Construction Management and Engineering, University of Reading

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  6. This feels to me like the neo-liberalists are trying to ‘grab back control’ to silence the good and important work of the academic community where it is most effectively fighting the instruments of climate change. If a way can be found to hold the community together on line, (perhaps initially boosted with grant aid?) I’ll happily contribute with a membership fee or in any other way I can, and perhaps the outreach and good influence of ‘BRI Online’ can grow beyond anyone’s expectations.

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  7. I was shocked and deeply dismayed to hear the news about these changes at BRI. I have known Richard Lorch for over fifteen years and have found his vision, values, choices, and skills to be exceptional. BRI’s stellar reputation is based on Richard’s leadership and the breadth and depth of his understanding of this field. It is unfathomable that someone so well placed and well suited to guide this publication would be removed for any reason, but to learn that the decision was based on an idiotic and arbitrary, whimsical need for changing things periodically is irresponsible. You should know how many of us depend on having a publication where deep and thoughtful exchanges of ideas, and important work on some the most crucial issues of our times can be reliably found. Having worked with Richard on my contributions to BRI, I have nothing but the highest praise and appreciation for what he has created over all these years at BRI. I beg you to reconsider this horrendous decision.

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  8. We have worked with Richard over 10 years and we were shocked by the changes in BRI. I hope the ill decision will be reconsidered and Richard will be able to continue his work, which is invaluable for the society.

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