The Director’s Corner

Special Issue

image of Janice Hale

Janice E. Hale, Ph.D.

Professor of Early Childhood Education

Founding Director of ISAAC

Wayne State University

Detroit, Michigan

Professional Irresponsibility in the Academy

A central goal of ISAAC is to strengthen the intellectual infrastructure within the African American community. This includes increasing the numbers of African Americans who earn the doctoral degree, obtain tenure and senior rank in the academy, contribute to the research literature and secure funding for major research projects.

In this vein, I am raising an issue in this column that crossed my path and is very disturbing to me as a dangerous trend. The issue is shortcuts that two African American male editors of major education journals have taken in the scholarly review/revision process. I am sharing the experiences I have had this year to pose the question of whether "it is just me".

In the summer of 2013, I submitted 7 articles or chapters to editors for publication. Four were submitted to African American editors. I was shocked by the actions of one African American female but I am not including her as the focus of this column because she was not a journal editor. The two editors I will discuss here were both editors of major journals and also African American males.

My publication career has extended over a 40 year period. I wrote my first book, Black Children, relatively early in my career and therefore was invited to write many of the articles I published during that time. I admit that on the face of it, one is treated with more largesse when an article is "invited" rather than submitted for the blind peer review process. Likewise, I cannot recall having an African American editor of a journal prior to the submissions in 2013. Every editor I had prior to last year was Anglo-American. So, my experience with African American editors was limited in the past. The fact that we have African American journal editors should be a cause for celebration, not a moment of anguish.

I can recall early in my career when senior scholars admonished African American scholars to be careful about "showing how bright and competent we are by destroying the work of other African American scholars". He noted that when the work of African American scholars was sent out for review, in the name of fairness and cultural sensitivity, other African Americans were called into service to conduct those reviews. When African American grants were reviewed or articles for publication, it was African Americans who were asked to review the work of their fellows. This senior scholar noted that often the reviewer seized upon this occasion as the opportunity for them to show how bright they were and how competent they were by literally destroying the work of other African American scholars to the point that their grants were not funded and their articles were not published. He urged us to reflect on that trend. The issue raised in this column is dedicated to an aspect of that admonition.

The long and short of my beef is that on two separate occasions, when I submitted an article for publication to two separate African American male journal editors, the articles were sent out for review to 2 reviewers. The report from the reviewers was sent to me. The editor chimed in as to which revisions he agreed with and felt were key. I was given a detailed list of substantial revisions and a deadline for submission of those revisions. In both instances, I was told in writing that if I made those revisions, my article would be published. There was no statement that making the revisions did not assure publication. There was no statement that the editor reserved the right to send the article to additional reviewers for review. A personal statement was rendered - in one case that the editor would be honored to publish the article if the revisions were made.

I spent a substantial amount of time under a deadline making each revision and responding to each and every comment by the reviewers. In today's world with the Review Mode on Word, I was able to create a Comment balloon for each edit. I wrote in the balloon the comment of the reviewer. I then created a Comment balloon in which I pinpointed the point in the text where the change was made and provided an explanation.

In one of the articles that I submitted, the editor who was an African American female appropriately went through each of the Comment balloons and deleted the ones that satisfied the request for revision. When she sent the manuscript back, it was crystal clear that she had reviewed each one and that there were only two left that needed to be satisfied. Once we dialogued about those two issues, the revisions were accepted and the article was accepted for publication. I knew that she had reviewed my revisions and that I had been fairly treated. This was a baseline for proper behavior by a journal editor.

In the two instances of which I complain, neither journal editor gave any indication that they had even read the revisions I submitted. They each sent my revised article out to 2 new reviewers, obtained reviews from them and sent them back to me. The editors then told me that if I would make these new revisions, that no more would be called for and that they would then publish the manuscript.

In the first instance, I wrote back and complained. I reminded the editor of the promise he had made of publication after the first revisions. I also said that it was unfair to me as the author to be subjected to 4 reviewers. I had never heard of that. However, the main complaint was that the editor was abdicating his job as the editor. By following this procedure, he didn't have to read anything. He could just send the revisions to a new set of reviewers and see what they came up with. He did't comment on anything. He didn't show any evidence that he had read my revisions or that anyone had read them. He was just sending it out to new people, which wasn't fair to me.

Just to be sure that my outrage was legitimate and what in the words of Pearl Cleage, "looked like crazy on an ordinary day," was truly crazy, I consulted with V.P. Franklin, ISAAC Founder and Senior Fellow, Distinguished Professor and Presidential Scholar at the University of California Riverside and Editor-in Chief of the Journal of African American History. I wanted his opinion about this whole scenario. Dr. Franklin said that if they promised me that the manuscript would be published if I made the revisions, then it should have been published. He also recommended that I report the editor to his superiors.

Before I could report his behavior to the publishers of his journal, the editor preempted me and reported himself. He wrote me that my complaint had been "investigated*quot; and he had been found to be correct. No information had been obtained from me. I then asked for the contact information of the person who did the "investigating". I wrote him (a white male) and provided him with all of the documentation to support my complaint. The editor tried to claim that he had sent the manuscript to the same reviewers -- not two different reviewers. I documented that that was not true because the 2nd set of reviewers had contradictory opinions from the first. Even though I sent detailed documentation of my position, I never received a response at all from the "investigator". I received messages from the editor asking me to submit the manuscript again, but no resolution of the dispute.

I was shocked when the whole scenario was repeated by the second African American editor of a different journal. I was promised publication if I made the revisions. There was no evidence that the revisions were read by anyone and the revisions were sent to a new set of 2 reviewers. When I wrote the editor and pointed out that he was abdicating his role by not reading or responding to my revisions, there was no response.

I am very disturbed by these events. What it tells me is that these two journal editors are cutting corners. They are using new reviewers in the place of their responsibility to review revisions. I believe they get away with it because of the "publish or perish" culture. I venture to say that most of the scholars who are submitting articles are junior faculty whose careers depend upon acceptance of their manuscripts. Few are submitting manuscripts at the twilight of their careers as is the case with me. Few have the audacity to tell the editors what they should be doing or have the leeway to withdraw their manuscripts and submit them elsewhere.

I am putting this issue on "blast" to ask whether any other scholars have had this experience. I am also raising the question of whether this is an issue that ISAAC Fellows should attack collectively.

I am going to post this column on my blog, AfroCognition which you can find on the ISAAC web site from the homepage tab "Visit our Blogs". You can comment on this column in that space. There is a box that you can check to be notified of the comments of others. If you check that box and register your email address, you will be notified when someone else comments. In that way, everyone can see what everyone else writes. We can then have a progressive chat on this issue.

If this has never happened to you, but happens in the future, the blog will be there and you can comment whenever you wish.

Let me hear from you.