Entire board of law journal resigns in a ‘small act of resistance’

The defense resigns.

The entire editorial board of the European Law Journal, along with its two top editors, has quit over a dispute about contract terms and the behavior of its publisher, Wiley. 

In a statement posted on the blog of the European Law Blog, editors-in-chief Joana Mendes, of the University of Luxembourg, and Harm Schepel, of the University of Kent, in England, wrote:

On January 31st, the Editorial and Advisory Boards of the European Law Journal resigned en masse from their positions in protest after the publisher, Wiley, decided that it was not willing to ‘give away’ control and authority over editorial appointments and decisions to the academics on the journal’s Boards. We recount our small act of resistance here because we think there may be lessons for the wider academic community. We are not looking to portray ourselves as martyrs for academic freedom or principled radicals looking to overhaul the entire system of academic publishing. Indeed, the most significant aspect of our rupture with Wiley lies in the modesty of the demands they were unwilling to meet.

In 2018, Wiley sought to appoint Editors-in-Chief without as much as consulting the Board of Editors and the Advisory Board, in a process both unfair to the prospective, excellent, new editors and in complete disregard of the integrity and autonomy of the academic community gathered in the Boards. The new editors withdrew, and the Boards resigned in protest. Wiley finally relented and agreed on an open competitive process administered by a committee of Board representatives leading to an appointment by mutual consent of the publisher and the committee. In the end, our recent negotiations with Wiley broke down on our one necessary if insufficient condition for agreeing to new terms: to simply have this process formalized in our new contract. It is a modest point, but one of vital importance: it clears the way to a model where Editors respond to the Board, not to the publisher, and where Editors work for the journal, not as remunerated contractors for the publisher. In other words, it is a fundamental condition for safeguarding academic autonomy. …

The editors go on to say that they will take their services elsewhere: 

The European Law Journal is an intellectual project we are determined to continue. This will have to happen in a new journal which will not be called the European Law Journal, will not have a pink cover, and will not carry the subtitle of the ‘review of European law in context.’ God forbid we encroach on the publisher’s proprietary interests.

Meanwhile, Wiley is looking to appoint new editors, refill its fully depleted masthead and continue something that is called the European Law Journal. New contractors, new service providers. Same name, same logo. Same paywall in front of the same thousands of pages of dedicated scholarship. Business as usual.  It is their right to do so. After all, they ‘own’ the European Law Journal. Or do they?

A representative for Wiley told us:

We are saddened by the decision of the editorial board of the European Law Journal to resign.  Wiley is engaged in discussions with independent academic advisors as we search for a new editorial team.  That team will have the authority to set editorial policy and appoint a new board for this important journal.

Not unprecedented

Although the bulk resignation at the ELJ is dramatic, it’s far from unprecedented. We have covered several similar cases before, including the time that the entire board of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health stepped down in protest over the editor’s handling of several papers. Last year, the board of the Journal of Informetrics mutineed to start their own publication. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the move was a protest

over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work.

It’s not even a first for Wiley. In 2018, most of the board of its journal Diversity & Distributionsresigned after what they claimed was the company’s refusal to allow the publication to run a letter objecting to its decision to make the title open access.

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