Regardless of discipline, there’s one thing that connects most academics I’ve encountered: the desire to keep practicing their respective fields. They’ve spent years cultivating their expertise and want to make a difference in their field. But in order for that to happen, they all share the same obstacle: tenure.

Increasingly, universities are favoring adjunct jobs over tenured professorships. When one looks at it from a business perspective, as administrations with budgets are bound to, it isn’t hard to see why that happened.  They get to pay less for the same work (though maybe not the same quality of work) and they retain power over the adjunct’s job security.

Whether one agrees with that policy, it makes a certain kind of sense from that side of the pipeline. The system isn’t exactly ideal for the academics in adjunct positions, though, whose lack of job security means that, year after year, the potential of finding a new job (another adjunct position, likely) weighs heavily on their minds. Nobody can do great work under that kind of pressure.

Finally, they do get that tenure-track position. Initially, it might seem like the hard part is over, but it’s only just begun. Convincing a university administration to offer a position is one thing; it’s a whole different story when it comes to the thing that most fuels a university’s engine: publication.

It’s inviting to think high-mindedly about higher education, but a professor’s value is based far more on their academic prestige and contributions to the field, at least at the administrative level, than the professor’s skills as an instructor. These contributions are marked by the quantity of articles published in academic journals and by the prestige of those journals. There really is no other road to tenure.

It’s a cutthroat game and professors are playing for keeps…they have to. There aren’t more total jobs on the academic market; the tenured positions are replaced by adjunct ones at the first available opportunity. Those with tenure hold onto to the privilege for dear life, and rarely does a seat open up at the table.

It’s a simple equation then, once they do find a seat, why the institution would demand publication. The institution wants prestige, which they get through having a prestigious faculty that publishes in renowned journals. They select for it, because it’s a bottom-line situation for them; a well-respected faculty means a higher class of student, which means a higher rate of tuition and a better result at the end of the fiscal year.

This is why it’s vital for the journal itself to make sure that what is printed on their pages meets their academic standards. Enter the peer review process. While it was designed to uphold academic rigor (and often succeeds at that purpose), it has the consequence of acting as a gatekeeper for those seeking tenure. That consequence may not have been intentional, but it has become a growing issue.

Submitted articles, certainly, must be vetted for accuracy and content, but they also must be filtered so they get into the right hands for peer review. This process takes time—always has—but it has grown even slower in recent years. With fewer tenured positions, there are fewer people available to review articles. The number of articles hasn’t necessarily changed, though, so those available are now busier than ever and, unfortunately, less attentive on top of it.

The trouble is that those on the tenure track only have so much time before their window closes. It can take months and even years for an article to slog through the pipeline, often preventing viable candidates from receiving tenure for the simple and fixable issue of delay. This inefficiency does a grave disservice to the very people the system was designed to help.

Without wholesale change in university administration mentality, the issue will not fix itself, so it must be addressed from a new angle. By identifying and analyzing the metadata present in a given article submission, it becomes clear where the submission comes from and who it should go to, which can help to streamline the process and make it easier on both the author and the peer reviewer, which will subsequently speed up the publishing process.

Data Harmony software is able to take care of this quickly and easily with the Smart Submit module. Using the article metadata in conjunction with a taxonomy, Smart Submit automatically identifies the subject areas covered in a submitted article. With that information, and with a properly designed management system,  a publisher can find qualified peer reviewers for the submission and ensure that reviewers don’t get overwhelmed with submissions. A lighter workload means that more time and care can be taken with a given submission, making for a better work environment and, potentially, a smoother path through the pipeline.

Academic publishing is a two-way street. Publishers need authors to write articles to populate their journals. Authors need journals to publish their research, which furthers their career and their field. When the two sides work together, that’s when a field of study can really flourish.

Why set up these barriers? It should be difficult to get published in a prestigious journal because academic rigor demands it, not because of an inefficient system that doesn’t help either side of the system. Smart Submit won’t solve all the problems an author might face in getting published, but getting the submission and review parts of the process streamlined and more transparent will make the process less frustrating for users and, ideally, speed up an arduous process that often hinders, when it should be an avenue for fresh voices to be heard.

Daryl Loomis
Access Innovations