Commentary on "How Not to Reform Humanities Scholarship"
“So lots of people in rhetoric and writing, especially computers and writing, are talking about Gary Olson's post ‘How Not to Reform Humanities Scholarship.[Chronicle of Higher Education: Run Your Campus]’ Olson counsels deans and department chairs—and us—to beware "commentators there [MLA Annual Conferene, January 2012] who were recommending changes in how the discipline conceives scholarly work.’ In particular, he notes: ‘Among other things, the reforms call for replacing the traditional monograph-style dissertation with alternative types of final projects; reconceiving professional scholarship to be less dependent on traditional forms and standard scholarly venues; and moving more toward open-access dissemination of scholarship.’ Olson argues that ‘the proposals are wrongheaded and ill-timed’ for various reasons: ... ‘allowing doctoral students to produce alternative projects may well disadvantage them on the job market...’ ‘more and more online journals are claiming to employ a peer-review process. That could be a positive development if we can arrive at a point where the community of scholars has confidence that the review process in online venues is as rigorous as it is in top-tier print journals...’ Olson's argument has not been well received by some readers... As one commenter points out, Olson is covering—and not properly separating—two different issues: whether the proposals will damage the scholarship itself, and whether the proposals will lead to work against which the academy (dissertation, tenure, and promotion committees) is prejudiced. Here, I only focus on Issue 1: whether the proposals will damage the scholarship itself. And in this sense, I think Olson's argument is a mixed bag... At the same time, open-access books and journals face at least two problems that impair their process. One is a money-and-labor problem... The other is a chicken-and-egg problem. A traditional journal makes its reputation in part by (a) enlisting a recognized senior scholar as editor; (b) enlisting an editorial board of scholars who can apply a consistently high standard to reviewing articles; and (c) recruiting high-quality papers that exceed that standard. Without those conditions, any journal will struggle. Open-access journals are at a particular disadvantage at this present moment, though, because (a) senior scholars recognize that they take a lot of work due to the money-and-labor problem, so they don't take them on, leaving less advanced scholars to fill the gap; (b) without a senior scholar as editor, journals face difficulties in recruiting senior scholars to their editorial boards and enforcing consistent standards from their editorial boards, as well as (c) recruiting papers from senior scholars...”