Associate editors, editorial board resign from architecture journal in protest

The editorial board of an architecture journal has resigned en masse after the publisher announced it plans to terminate the editor’s contract at the end of this year.

In an open letter to publisher Taylor and Francis, the editorial board of Building Research and Information says the publisher’s decision 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.

Taylor & Francis have argued that an editor’s term should be limited. But many academics disagree — an online petition to save outgoing editor Richard Lorch (started by Lorch himself) has collected hundreds of signatures; many people on Twitter have posted comments using the hashtag “#saveBRIeditor.”

At the end of the open letter, three associate editors and dozens of board members write:

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.  

Term limits

A representative of Taylor & Francis (T&F) told us:

At the time of publication of this open letter we were still in discussion with Richard Lorch, the editor-in-chief, on leadership succession plans for the journal. Whilst we appreciate that in the intervening period the editorial board have collectively resigned, it was always our intention to share an agreed approach and timeline to the wider editorial board once these discussions had concluded.

We have now been in direct contact with the entire editorial board to suggest a meeting where this can be fully discussed, including our reasoning for proposing a fixed-term, rotating editor-in-chief position. We hope to continue this discussion directly with them and believe that, despite their collective resignation, this would be a positive conversation, well worth having.

Leon Heward-Mills, T&F’s Global Publishing Director (Journals), told us the publisher originally gave Lorch three months’ notice, but extended it to a year to ease the transition:

The decision not to renew his contract was not at any point based on his performance as an editor, which has been exemplary. It is based on our ambitions for the future of the journal and a strong desire to introduce new opportunities for others in the field to step into journal leadership roles (i.e. editor-in-chief and editor positions). Such fixed-term contracts on journal leadership roles are a growing norm in journal publishing, providing opportunities for people to apply who would not otherwise be able to commit to an open-ended role.

We had also been discussing with Richard Lorch a significant Emeritus Editor role on the journal’s Editorial Board. We are still in active discussions with him, hope he will accept this position, and that the Board will take up our offer of meeting to discuss these succession plans in person.

Heward-Mills said he was “surprised” to see the board resign, and hopes to work with them to find a new editor:

…we do plan to recruit a new Editor-in-Chief and always planned to discuss the direction of the journal with them and the Editorial Board. Our ambition has always been to be fully respectful of Richard Lorch’s editorship, with a future editor’s networks and knowledge building on existing ones. Our plans were also always to hold an open call for a new Editor-in-Chief. This recruitment would include an assessment panel with an Editorial Board representative, ourselves as the Publisher, and we had invited Richard Lorch to be on this too.

#saveBRIeditor

The board has suggested keeping Lorch on until 2020, in order to finish up the papers and special issues he had been planning. In a statement, Lorch told us:

Despite the grave misgivings about Taylor and Francis’s decision to terminate my contract, I have a commitment to the guest editors and authors of special issues that were agreed or in production for 2019 and therefore I will work diligently until the end of 2018 to fulfil this. The guest editors chose this journal because they specifically wanted to work with me. Their reasons are based on the rigour, guidance, support and collaboration that I provide to them and to authors.  It would be irresponsible to renege on the commitment to special issue guest editors and authors, especially as special issues can have a long gestation period.

I would certainly like to continue as Editor in Chief beyond 2018 and would be able to work constructively with Taylor and Francis if they reverse their decision.  With a petition signed by over 700 people, T&F may wish to use this feedback constructively by listening to the journal stakeholders.

Lorch added:

The Associate Editors and Editorial Board members first made individual representations to Taylor and Francis in order to provide evidence and make their views known on this matter after T&F announced its decision to terminate my contract. T&F had not consulted them in the decision-making process.  Nor had T&F been willing to take their feedback into account after the decision was announced.  As a result, the Associate Editors and Editorial Board members felt they needed to register their protest about both T&F’s poor management process and ill-considered outcome.  They decided a resignation at this time was necessary to alert our community of authors, readers, reviewers and institutional endorsers.  Strong agreement exists that T&F’s decision is not in the best interests of the community served by the journal.  

We contacted a few members of the board who were quoted in the open letter; Philip Steadman of University College London told us:

T & F have indeed proposed a meeting with representatives of the editorial board (not the entire board). The declared purpose of this meeting is to discuss the replacement of Richard Lorch with a new editor. Since the whole purpose of the Board’s protest is to keep Richard as editor, this is absurd. We are just sending another joint letter to T & F, turning down the invitation unless the option of Richard continuing as editor is on the table.

So at present my position is unchanged, and I will not change my decision to resign. I believe that the other members of the Board take the same view.

The open letter includes a quote from Fionn Stevenson of the University of Sheffield to the publisher:

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.

The letter adds:

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.

Steadman explained why the board decided to resign now, even though Lorch has 10 months left in his contract:

We have resigned now in order to put pressure on T & F to change their minds. In 10 months we would have no leverage. In the meantime board members can help Dr Lorch to run the journal as individuals, if they so wish, by suggesting authors and papers, reviewing papers etc. Some special issues initiated by Dr Lorch will go ahead under the direction of their specially appointed editors.

The “very peculiar nature” of academic publishing

This isn’t the first time Taylor & Francis has faced an en masse resignation by one of its editorial boards — the board of a public health journal resigned last year, also over the publisher’s decision to appoint a new editor without consulting the board, among other concerns. And it’s not the only publisher facing this problem: Most members of a Springer journal resigned earlier this month over the appointment of a new editor and staff layoffs, and Nature Publishing Group has formed a committee to review why Scientific Reports decided to correct, not retract, a paper accused of plagiarism — a move that prompted the resignation of dozens of board members.

Regarding the resignations from the other T&F journal, Heward-Mills told us:

Both of these cases have their own unique circumstances. Looking specifically at the actions of the Building Research and Information’s Editorial Board, we firmly believe there is still constructive discussion to be had. That is why we have taken the steps we have over the last week (and before that), and very much hope to continue this discussion directly with them.

Steadman concluded:

This is a personal comment, not necessarily the position of the Board: but I see this move by T & F as symptomatic of the larger commercialisation and industrialisation of academic publishing. Since T & F run thousands of journals, they are not particularly concerned about the fortunes of any one title. They also strangely fail – in my view – to understand the very peculiar nature of their business: that the ‘product’ is very largely dependent on the labour and good will of many people who work for free and are not employed. Once this good will is lost, everything else is lost, other than the title of the publication. The answer in my view is for more universities to take publication back into their own control, instead of paying huge sums to companies who do not have the interests of research and scholarship as their central concerns.

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