SURESH CANAGARAJAH: January 2008 Archives

And then there was that huge package for me the day before Christmas. Since it wouldn’t fit into the pigeonhole for faculty mail, the office staff had placed the package outside the mailbox. My first thought was that this was a nice Christmas surprise from someone. A closer look at the label showed that it had been addressed to the editor of TQ and that it came from China. I then thought that it must be from a gratified author whose work I had shepherded into print. I had to revise this assumption as I couldn’t identify the name from our recently published authors. Guided by the stereotype that Asians are immensely grateful people, I then thought that the package was possibly from a rejected author who still wanted to thank me for the time I had put into reviewing his/her submission and providing valuable suggestions. With mounting curiosity, I heaved the package away from the prying eyes of jealous colleagues, shut my office door, and exerted myself on opening the box.

What tumbled out of the package were reams of typed paper. When I sorted out everything I counted three manuscript submissions, with three copies of each article, with their own set of cover letter, abstract, and author information. I read the cover letter repeatedly and confirmed my worst fear—yes, it was all by the same author.

This is an increasingly common phenomenon I see in academic publishing these days—an author making three articles for publication in one submission—and so far it has come to me mostly from China. It was not the stress of reviewing the increasing number of manuscripts that bothered me. From 94 submissions in 2004, the final year of the previous editor of TQ, the submission rate has increased to an annual average of 250 during my term. And there wasn’t anything in our guidelines that prevented authors from making multiple submissions at the same time—unlike the policy against submitting the same article to multiple journals. What troubled me were the implications for the composing process of the author and the quality of the submission when someone is under pressure to send three articles in one envelope. Or was academic publishing becoming similar to lottery—you buy multiple tickets in the hope that one will hit the jackpot?

After inquiring from friends in China, I understand that the motivation for this practice is far more complicated. I understand that many academic communities in the East are putting pressure on their scholars to get published in journals with high impact factor in order to get tenured or promoted. According to some accounts, even graduate students in China are expected to publish a couple of refereed articles in order to earn their doctorate. The bug of corporatization, measurement, and productivity has bitten administrators and policy makers in the East. Such institutional expectations might not sound surprising to European or American scholarly communities. Publish or perish has been the name of the game for a long time in the West. In the East, we must consider these publishing expectations in the light of the working conditions of local scholars. These scholars are expected to do a lot of teaching, far more than it is expected of tenure line faculty members in USA. They are not given time off for research or writing in many institutions. The scholars have to find the time themselves, after they take care of teaching and service. The limited library facilities, with the latest books missing and a smaller range of journals subscribed to, prevent local scholars from keeping up with the theoretical paradigms or research trends in the West. There are other personal and domestic pressures they have to negotiate before they can invest their time and resources on publishing. Many of them have to supplement their limited salary by doing other jobs to support their families. Local scholars also lack the support system and peer circles that can review or edit their work before submission. Need we mention the linguistic challenges involved in having to publish in English in the high impact journals (which for some strange reasons are all published in English)? Such are the problems these authors are expected to deal with in order to satisfy their institutional expectations.

A local scholar now teaching in Singapore (who likes to remain anonymous) wrote to me: “Almost all universities in Mainland China set down a specified number of publications as a precondition for promotion to an associate professorship or full professorship. I learned from a student of mine in China that at his university, the required number for promotion to associate professionship is 10 journal papers. In addition to quantity, there are also requirements about the quality of publications. . . One of my colleagues told me that his former university in China give 5 times more reward points to a paper published in a high-impact overseas journal than one published in a "national-level" domestic journal. I have also heard unverified stories that some Chinese universities give 10,000 reminbi yun per article to their faculty who publish in SCI and SSCI journals. The deputy dean of the English Language and LIterature College of another Chinese university told me that the rate at his university is 3,000 yun per article. Given such financial rewards, it is little wonder submissions from China to international journals have greatly increased in recent years.”

Matters are compounded by the lack of information on the publishing process. Editorial board member, Judy Chen, writes from Taiwan: “Many authors do not understand what the publishing effort involves, what the submissions require, what the process is, and even what the APA Guidelines are. For example, it is normal that in Taiwan and China student researchers do not have an APA manual. The reason for this is that there is an informal translation to Chinese of the manual widely available on the Web. When asked, students respond they DO have it, but what they mean is the online version in Chinese. And they often are not aware there is such a thing in English and how detailed it is. Of course the online version is full of errors and omissions, and does not even begin to include the style guidelines of the real APA book (such as here http://www1.mcu.edu.tw/Apps/SB/data/20/APA.pdf).”

Shouldn’t we consider other more reasonable—and appropriate—bench marks for productivity in the East then? Why not give more credit for authors who publish in local journals? Wouldn’t knowledge about local education or linguistic realities be more relevant to local teachers, policy makers, and community members? And why overlook semi-scholarly and popular publications as a forum for one’s research? Is publishing in a high impact journal located in an English-speaking country the sole standard for one’s scholarly worth? Further, should a published article be always the measure of one’s productivity? What about giving more credit for teaching and knowledge dissemination in oral genres and other media forms in one’s own community?

As a well-published Turkish scholar once put it to me: “It’s a dog eat dog world out there in the West, as American and European scholars try to cope with the publish or perish culture in their own institutions. How can one expect us from the periphery to enter into that competition and satisfy the newly formulated academic policies in our communities?”

How indeed? And who is there to think of a poor author toiling during the year-end holiday season finalizing three 30-page articles for submission to the same journal? What pressure to publish? How realistic the expectation? And at what cost?

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by SURESH CANAGARAJAH in January 2008.

SURESH CANAGARAJAH: December 2007 is the previous archive.

SURESH CANAGARAJAH: February 2008 is the next archive.

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