“Publisher’s fiat”: Letter published in Times Higher Education

The following is a letter first published in Times Higher Education (THE) (19 April 2018, p. 33). This was drafted by the editor in chief and the departing editorial board of BRI, in follow up to THE’s report on the termination of Richard Lorch’s contract. The letter criticises Taylor & Francis for poor governance: disregard of both BRI’s editorial board as custodians of journal integrity and the voices of BRI’s wider community. This has been reproduced with permission, and the original publication is available here

 

The neTHE logo[1]ws article “Journal board resigns in protest at editor’s dismissal” (2 March) highlighted the mass resignations at Building Research & Information because of the publisher’s arbitrary dismissal of its editor-in-chief, Richard Lorch.

Alongside the shock this has caused within the community that BRI serves, it also highlights important wider issues about the governance of relations between publishers, journal editors and editorial boards; how best to create diversity within the support systems that a journal relies on for survival; and what happens when a publisher alienates the community that constitutes the life blood (and social capital) of a journal. Taylor and Francis have a previous history here, having dismissed the editor of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (“Publisher’s intervention on journal sparks ‘grave concerns”, News, 18 May 2017).

As the BRI editorial team, we are very exercised about what we see as Taylor & Francis’ cavalier behaviour, not just because of the dismissal of BRI’s editor-in-chief but subsequently through its disregard of the journal’s editorial board as the custodians of the integrity and reputation of BRI. One governance issue of particular concern is the lack of transparency and accountability. In dismissing BRI’s editor, the publisher has failed to consult with the communities this journal serves, especially with its editorial board and associate editors.  The publisher continues to fail to listen to the representations that were made to them since. We think these actions represent poor governance within Taylor and Francis and also violate its own corporate principles. We do not argue that diversity is not an important issue, but we reject the cavalier manner of the process and the publisher’s treatment of the editor, the journal’s gender balanced editorial team and its diverse editorial board when making new changes.

What evidence supports the publisher’s assertion that the “rotation” of editors leads to improved outcomes?  And is the imposition of fixed timeframes for editors the most appropriate method to achieve new voices and new networks as it claims? An ethical practice would be one that evaluates who benefits and who is damaged by a particular decision. But there has been no process to evaluate the publisher’s unilaterally imposed new policy or how it proposes to achieve this diversity.

An online petition “Save BRI’s Editor” has 873 signatories objecting to Taylor & Francis’ decision. Taylor and Francis was presented with the petition but has ignored the community that it purports to serve.

Richard Lorch, editor in chief

Raymond J. Cole, associate editor

Niklaus Kohler, associate editor

Faye Wade, associate editor

Sofie Pelsmakers, social media editor

(The last four signatories have resigned in protest)

 

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