Breaking News: Editor, Corresponding Editors and Senior Board members resign BJET

Paul A. Kirschner

This is the text of a letter sent to Times Higher Education sent by the Chief Editor, 3 Corresponding Editors, and 5 Senior Board members pertaining to their resignation from the British Journal of Educational Technology. The letter – in abridged form – will be online there on Thursday, December 9 and will also appear in the print magazine version of THE.

To our great dismay, Nick Rushby – editor of the British Journal of Educational Technology – has chosen to step down as editor. This, in itself, is not the full reason for our dismay, but rather, the events that led to this.

The basis for his decision lies in a conflict between him as Editor (together with much of the BJET Editorial Board), and the British Educational Research Association’s (BERA) reactions to a proposed amendment of the journal’s scope. The scope amendment was made to increase the journal’s quality by fine-tuning its criteria for selection or rejection. The editorial board of the journal was thoroughly consulted, worked collaboratively on the amendment, and had agreed to it in early September 2015.

The proposed change and BERA’s response to and position on it has led to an irreconcilable conflict regarding the editorial independence of BJET as journal. The email exchanges between Nick (along with a number of board members) and Mark Priestley, Chair of BERA Academic Publications Committee, relating to BERA’s support of the APC’s point of view on this matter made it clear to us that BERA wishes to have editorial control of the selection of content despite the views of the Editorial Board and the Journal’s Editor, and that this decision is intractable and not open to discussion.

BERA’s terms of reference state that it is responsible for “[S]etting general policies in terms of language and ethics for contributors and members involved in the editorial process.” The editor’s standard memorandum of agreement specifies that the editor must “comply with Editorial policy and all procedures and standards for the acceptance of manuscripts and to obtain BERA’s approval of any material changes to such policy, procedures and standards.”

In contrast, the Committee on Publication Ethics’ Guidelines for the boards of directors of learned society journals is quite clear that relationship of Editors of the journals of Learned Societies to those Societies should be based firmly on the principle of editorial independence. It states:

The journals of Learned Societies are an important part of the scientific literature. Their management should be of the highest quality and ethically sound…the relationship of Editors of the journals of Learned Societies to those Societies is often complex. However, notwithstanding the economic and political realities of their journals, directors of Learned Societies should respect that their editors should make decisions on which articles to publish based on quality and suitability for readers rather than for immediate financial or political gain. Directors and employees should not be able to overrule these decisions. The relationship of Editors of the journals of Learned Societies to those Societies should be based firmly on the principle of editorial independence.

BJET’s scope statement, which is included in the Notes for Authors, must be consistent with the editorial decisions on what submissions will be considered. This is accepted editorial best practice. In seeking to over-ride the Editorial Board on a matter that affects quality and suitability for readers, BERA is interfering in editorial content and this is unacceptable.

This controversy should not be taken to reflect badly on Wiley, the publishers, who fully understand the decision of the editor and editorial board members. Wiley has been unstinting in its efforts and enthusiasm to raise the quality of the Journal, and to make the articles published in BJET more discoverable and helpful to readers. They have encouraged the Journal to introduce features such as video abstracts, structured practitioner notes, and meta-tagging. The editorial team could not have wished for a better or more publisher.

Though I am sending this, I do it on behalf of, and with the knowledge and support of those who have to date resigned namely Nick Rushby (Chief Editor), Colin Latchem, Meifeng Liu, Roza Valeeva (Corresponding Editors), and John Cowan, Clark Quinn, William Milheim, Nancy George and Jan Seabrook (Editorial Board members).

Yours sincerely

Paul Kirschner

P.S. At the time of writing, BERA has not yet named the interim editorial team and two more senior Board Members have resigned.