An open letter from the BRI Editor to Informa / Taylor and Francis and BRI’s readers and authors

Dear Stephen Carter, Leon Heward-Mills and Richard Delahunty,

The decision by Taylor and Francis (T&F) to terminate my contract as Editor in Chief of Building Research & Information (BRI) is based solely on one criterion: the length of time in post.  As T&F’s global publishing head of journals, Mr Heward-Mills stated this is based on a desire to bring in “new voices” – but he has failed to define what this means or how this is beneficial.  It is overly simplistic to suggest this can only be done by the removal of the Editor.  Evidence has been provided to show how we actively already achieve this for BRI in terms of gender, geography, career stage and areas of expertise.  We achieve this by an active programme of adding new people – their voices and their insights.  These new voices contribute to our diversity and vitality at many levels: particularly the associate editors and editorial board members who have a fundamental role in the decision processes, but also our guest editors, reviewers and authors.

It is bizarre that you emphasize new voices but you ignore the existing voices of our community. Many authors, readers and reviewers have raised their voices to protest Informa’s decision. First this occurred in many private letters from individuals as well as the organisations that endorse the journal. Following a lack of meaningful response from T&F, the Editorial Team and Board detailed their queries and concerns in two open letters. The first responded to T&F’s decision to terminate my contract, whilst the second responded to their request for a meeting and continued oversight of the Board’s concerns. Indeed, 48 people (associate editors and editorial board members) have resigned en masse. In their second letter, they stated:

 ” … we find the tone and content of your [Leon Heward-Mills’] response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns.”

Taylor and Francis and its parent company Informa plc have failed to answer questions raised by the journal’s editorial board.

More broadly, objections have been raised via social media, and over 870 people (at the time of writing) from our community have signed a petition objecting to T&F’s decision and ask that it is rescinded. Their reasons (based on the comments they provided) fall broadly into several categories:

  • it is not in the journal’s and the community’s interest
  • the decision-making process was flawed – there was no consultation, no transparency, no underpinning evidence, no consideration of other factors and it violates the parent company’s stated principles
  • the high quality of leadership and service that I provide is unique and highly valued in our field.
  • it is an ‘unjust’ way to treat a successful editor
  • it represents poor management of succession planning
  • it will damage the reputation of Informa / Taylor and Francis

Informa / T&F has completely disregarded the voices of the community it purports to serve. It is clear that widespread discontent exists over the Informa / T&F decision to terminate my contract.

At a more fundamental level, there are serious misgivings about the poor governance and management processes involving how this decision was made:

  • Violations of Informa’s stated values and principles:
    • Striving for “excellence in all we do.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “We will work in a fair and ethical way within the markets in which we operate and will seek to maintain a position of respect, reliability and integrity.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 8)
    • “We incentivise, reward and recognise people solely on their ability to perform and excel at their role.”  (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “Handling relationships ethically, lawfully and with integrity doesn’t stop at our colleagues: we expect this of anyone who works with or on behalf of Informa” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 3)
    • “Our colleagues are how we will be successful and we can support them through training, wellbeing and the provision of opportunity. This will help with the retention, recruitment and support the delivery of our growth ambitions.”        (Informa plc, Sustainability Report, 2016, p 7)
    • “We making hiring and role progression decisions based solely on relevant qualifications and merit…” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 5)

 

  • There is no evidence underpinning this practice. Should T&F work to industry “norms” or strive for excellence? NB: only one publisher espouses a maximum 15-year tenure for editors – but this publisher makes exceptions for its excellent editors (one is in post for 23+ years). Another rival publisher has an excellent editor in post for 33 years.
  • No evaluation of this practice – how does it foster excellence?
  • No ethical evaluation of how this practice affects the particular journal and its stakeholders
  • Inconsistent application by T&F management:
    • Lack of communication about this practice to editors and within T&F
    • Practice arbitrarily applied within T&F (some editors are in post for 25 years, others 21 years, etc)
  • No clear, stated process to account for specific context. How does T&F differentiate between a poetry and physics journal?
  • Single criterion decision process – other important criteria marginalised
  • No prior consultation with Editorial Board and other key stakeholders (the many professional and research organisations that endorse BRI)
  • No meaningful engagement with the feedback provided by the Editorial Board – they have provided evidence to show “new voices” are actively involved in the journal

These grave concerns raise doubts in the community of authors and readers about the publisher’s stewardship of this journal. Success in academic publishing depends upon the creation of trust and integrity, which have now been eroded hugely by Informa / Taylor and Francis. The arrogant disregard of the representations from our research community constitutes a significant breach in your stewardship.

Sincerely,

Richard Lorch, RIBA

Editor in Chief, Building Research & Information

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