Saturday, 29 October 2011

Editing, A Quixotic Academic Activity

I have been asked to expand on my comment (here) that "the actual editing of primary texts does not count as academic activity in any way in the eyes of government bean-counters." I am happy to oblige (but NB my caveat at the foot of this post). I mentioned this in my blog entry on Haywood's The City Widow as one of the reasons not to publish The Complete Works of Eliza Haywood with an academic or commercial publisher.

The monitoring of academic activity has become ubiquitous in universities worldwide. In Australia the branch of the federal government that manages the higher education sector is the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR). Every year DIISR demands an account of research activity via the Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC). (DIISR also monitors student numbers, undergraduate and postgraduate teaching etc.)

I did the HERDC for a couple of years when I was a postgraduate, and I have been filling in forms for the HERDC for as long as I have been publishing—though the acronym keeps changing. I preferred DEST—The Department of Education, Science and Training—which was easier to pronounce and actually contained the word "Education," implying the government is not ashamed of everything it does outside of the sciences in schools, colleges and universities.

Anyway, the current DIISR HERDC categories define what can and cannot be claimed as academic activity. The four "DEST-able" categories are defined as

A1 Books - Authored Research (Commercial Publisher)
B1 Book Chapters - Commercial Publisher
C1 Journal Article - Refereed Scholarly Journal
E1 Conference Publication - Full Paper Refereed

There are also many non-DEST-able categories (now non-DIISR-able categories. DIISR-able sounds like "miserable" I guess). These include

A2 Books - Authored Other (Non-Commercial Publisher)
A3 Book Editorship & Edited Compilation (claimed by editor/s)
A4 Book Revision or New Edition

with a similar alphanumeric series for Major Reviews (D), Audio Visual Recording (F), Computer Software (G), Refereed Design (H), Patents (I), Original Creative Work (J), Research Reports (K), Theses (L), Performances (M), Expert Commentary (N) and "Other Publication Categories" (O).

So, "editing of primary texts does not count as" an A1 (Authored Research, Commercial Publisher), which is set aside for monographs like my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood. (Though, an A1 excludes many types of reference works, such as enumerative bibliographies, dictionaries and encyclopedias; which is why colleagues in other schools disputed whether my 840-page Bibliography actually counted as "research activity." It was only when I challenged them to read the 65,744 words in my 2,093 footnotes to judge for themselves whether the text was actually "research" that they "let it pass"!)

If I had published my Bibliography with Lulu, it would have been an A2 (Non-Commercial Publisher). Interestingly (where "interestingly" means "disgustingly"), my esteemed colleague Brian McMullin, who has published many important works in the prestigious Harvard Library Bulletin, had an A1 application for his Title-Labels in British Books dismissed, though it was issued with an ISBN as well as an ISSN, on the basis that Harvard Library was not a commercial publisher. And this because the did not have an internet page that solicited manuscripts of all sorts for publication—unlike Harvard University Press.

If I were to published the second edition of my Bibliography with Pickering & Chatto, it would be an A4 (Book Revision or New Edition). Of course I won't do that—and I will dance naked down the street when the copyright returns to me in 2014—but if I were to do it, it would be an A4. I will get to A3s in a minute.

But, to be clear, only an A1 would be counted for the current DIISR HERDC and, until recently, this meant that only an A1 would shake the money tree. (The exact funding mechanism is way too complicated to explain here.) In recent times, however, we have had RQF (Research Quality Framework) and ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia). Both the RQF, which was modelled on the British RAE, and ERA (Son of RQF), are metrics-based assessments that take in broader research activity.

I have vented before on the rank stupidity, the cretinous imbecility, of crudely applying a misconceived journal ranking and bibliometric/citation-count model on research activity in the humanities, so I won't do it again here (ERA: Damned Lies and Bibliometrics; Evidence of Impact, A Decade Later; Script & Print Indexed by Scopus). But it is with enormous pleasure that I can say that a courageous colleague of mine in English (she is in the next office to me), helped topple the idol by investigating the ranking of a few journals with a well-applied Freedom of Information application. Well done Anna! (see Kim Carr bows to rank rebellion over journal rankings).

Despite complains and the occasional victory, the monitoring of academic activity will continue. And, in fact, a wider view of what constitutes academic activity is a good thing. Far better to have A1–4 than just A1. Which brings me to A3 and the editing of primary texts. The four "DEST-able" categories bring money, but the cumulative impact of all the non-DEST-able categories, is to bring money too, just not as directly or clearly. The amount each of the big four publication categories bring is fairly well known, in round terms; but if our ERA/RQf profile diminishes, so does our funding. So, universities are now keen to record everything.

What this means for an individual like me is that, after years of having my editorial activity completely and utterly ignored and invisible, the university and the Federal Government might now be modestly, grudgingly, interest, or prepared to record my academic activity in the not-very-great hope that it might make a modest impact (somewhat like a drop of pigeon shit adds to the height of Nelson's Column).

And by editorial activity I am talking about all the things that are required for one to publish a five-volume collection of facsimile texts with annotations and introductions by leading scholars in the field (Eighteenth-Century British Erotica, Part I and Eighteenth-Century British Erotica, Part II) or a five-volume collection of transcribed and edited texts with annotations and introductions by leading scholars in the field (Bawdy Songbooks of the Romantic Period).

That is, seeing the need, and examining the competition, for a work; selecting the contents and drafting a formal proposal; negotiating with the press to take on the project and persuading a group of busy scholars to spend the time reading and annotating a series of texts and to write an introduction, and navigating all the legal, technical and intellectual challenges involved in seeing such a project to publication: from advising editors on stylistic matters through to vetting advertising copy.

When ECBE I (2002) and ECBE II (2004) were published, I was told that edited collections of texts "do not count" (as academic activity). At all. There is no form for them and no place for the data in any database. By way of consolation, I was informed that there were many things that academics did that did not count, and that the DEST collection (as it was then) selective, the assumption being that, if a section/school/faculty/university was strong in its A1s, B1s, C1s and E1s, then they would also be doing all these other things too, and would be remunerated as they ought to be, though they were selective in the information they collected and the types of activity they were interested in. I did not find this terribly persuasive then and it has been increasingly obvious since that this is hogwash.

The universities put pressure on staff to perform academic activity that "counts"—that is visible to DIISR. As the same consoling staff member explained some years later in the lead up to the imposition of RQF, universities had become so fixated on what "counts" under the DEST system that the system had to be changed. He predicted that the same thing would occur with the RQF and that, in time, it would also have to be changed for the same reason: that like mice in an cage, the universities will keep pressing the money pedal until they starve. (Some would argue that they do this because they are starving already.)

When Senator Carr ditched the journal ranking element of ERA he did so because journal ranking "was focusing ill-informed, undesirable behaviour in the management of research." Quite right. The announcement was unexpected and exquisitely timed. I'll refrain from quoting the internal Monash email in question, but not one week earlier all staff received a missive advising them not to publish in C-ranked journals (despite many outstanding academic journals being—inexplicably, contentiously—ranked C). As Anna explained

Journal rankings were being instrumentalised, being taken into our performance management assessments, and you have to cite your journal rankings in grant applications to the ARC. If you have three articles in C-ranked journals it is automatically considered not to be research of the same quality as if they were in A-ranked journals and that has career implications.

It is still the case that all academic staff are required to have accrued a certain number of DEST/DIISR points per calendar year (a C1 is worth 1 point, an A1 is 5 points) and the number of DEST/DIISR points a staff member has is entered into their workload equation to determine how much teaching they must do.**

So, if a staff member was foolish enough to spent two years hammering away in their role as general editor of a five volume collection of edited texts—a collection that might be instrumental in opening up an entire field of research, which may redefine a discipline—they would be in danger of being disciplined in their performance management for failure to perform and drowning in teaching, because such a labour would not reduce their workload by the smallest measurable fractional of an EFSTU (equivalent full time student units) or EFTSL (equivalent full-time student load).

So, beside the indignity of having a core activity in literary studies disregarded in the definition of academic activity, these two instruments (performance management and workload) guarantee that staff are aware that the "editing of primary texts" is basically a hobby, like maintaining a blog. Or knitting.

With the advent of ERA (Son of RQF) universities now do give a pinch of goat-shit about this hobby and I have been torturing the professional staff with this puzzler: how do we classify my hobby, sorry, my publications? Which brings us back to A3, which may comprise any of the following:

• edited books, including revised or new editions of edited books which are substantially different from the preceding book, and editorship of major reference works; these may be edited books, monographs or short series of volumes consisting of contributions from a number of authors

• editorship of a scholarly or professional journal controlled by an editorial board with its contributions subject to peer review.

• edited volumes of conference proceedings in which one or more staff members are identified as having editorial responsibility for the proceedings.

It appears that this will work, though some of the DEST-trained old guard are (naturally) unsure, and want to see footnotes and bibliographies—physical manifestations of intellectual labour.

(On a happy side-note, this A3 definition also seems to cover my three years as editor of an academic journal: Script and Print.)

The eligibility criteria for an A3 also explains that

• edited books may be either from commercial or non commercial publishers

And so, if I were to edit The Complete Works of Eliza Haywood, despite the fact that such a quixotic undertaking would have a negative impact on my performance management and my workload, there is no incentive to seek a commercial or an academic/commercial publisher.

* * * * *

**Regarding workload equations: administrators pretend that staff spend 40% of their time on teaching, 40% on research and 20% on admin. Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that this is a fantasy with school-wide average of a 140% workload: "research" includes honours, masters and doctoral supervision. In fact, it is largely made up of this alone. Obviously, patently, self-evidently, honours, masters and doctoral supervision is not research. At all. It is teaching, teaching about research, facilitating the publication of research by someone else, but it isn't research.

The maximum number of points that can be counted as research based on publications (i.e., actual research, not teaching, but measured with only DEST-able publications) is five of forty points (for me, the numbers are higher for Professors etc). What this really means is five of fifty-six points or 11.2% when the school-wide workload average of 140% is taken into account. And note, that to get these five points one would have to publish a book (an A1) every year.

Also note, that the difference between doing the academic equivalent of treading water or undertaking a full triathlon—pounding out a book every year—is four points, and the average workload overload is the equivalent of sixteen points (four times this difference). So you can see what I mean when I say pretend: the four points are so utterly insignificant in this scheme as to be beneath comment. So, under the present workload model there is no incentive to undertake genuine research and, in as much as there is any incentive at all, it is only to do DEST-able research.

(Of course, in this post I am only talking about workload and publications-counting: bean-counting. If anyone were to actually push out a monograph a year they would be carried around the campus on the shoulders of an admiring crowd. And my colleagues have greeted the various collections I have edited with the recognition they deserved. Likewise, my various publications have been recognised in my appointment as co-director of the Centre for the Book and, indeed, were acknowledged in my ARC success and my Monash appointment. But when deciding what to do as an academic and considering the lack of incentive to seek out a commercial publisher for The Complete Works of Eliza Haywood …)

1 comment:

John Lavagnino said...

There's always someone around who's dismissing the value of editing, but it's depressing to hear that it's enshrined in government policy in Australia. I'm at a university in England and our research reviews, at least in the humanities, are still much more focused on panels of live scholars trying to assess everything; but there's a lot of push in the Australian direction and I expect it will be something like this system here as well pretty soon.