Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reflections on Blogging, Academia, and Diversity


by  Fiona McQuarrie

When Jennifer Berdahl was appointed to a faculty position in the University of British Columbia (UBC) Sauder School of Business, a UBC press release quoted her as saying that she intended to “create change by having a dialogue directly with people in organizations”. But during this past week, a dialogue between Berdahl and UBC has turned into a situation that has gotten a lot of attention. ... [Read rest of McQuarrie's post here]

McQuarrie continues to provide a background to the story.  She then uses this story to argue that organizations that promote diversity must do more than make pronouncements of their desire.  In so doing McQuarrie discusses her perception of UBC as a "go along to get along" working culture. That might be the case, though personally I doubt colleagues would classify me as a go along to get along sort of colleague, for example.  The Berdahl situation does tell us something, but I think it has more to say about where power sits on campus then it does about diversity programming.

I think that one other factor is at play. Berdahl is in the business school - that is the perceived center of support of corporatism.  She is also a star of the business school, funded by a self-appointed gender white knight. If someone like myself in the faculty of arts said the same thing (several of us in fact did) no one would notice. In fact, no one did notice any of us outside of the business school.

This raises an interesting aspect of what I call (after Bill Readings' The University in Ruins) the University of Excellence (I say more about it in a paper here): for the most part what we as faculty say is irrelevant and ignored by those in power.  All that seems to counts is that we say something, it is published somewhere, and we get research dollars to fund it. We have great periodic moments of accountability were we get to score our output, but never truly evaluate the content (that was done in peer review). Take a look, for example, through all of the "critical studies" publications emanating from the faculty of arts and critical education, it's almost a litany of nasty churlish criticisms (in peer reviewed venues) of the corporate neo-liberal university etc. I count my own work amongst this crowd. The point is that most of what we say is ignored.  If I were to publish a devastating critique of our university in a top their journal I might even get accolades from the president's office (proving they don't really read anything we write).  Maybe we are fortunate that only our fellow choir members read our blogs and published papers.

Berdahl, who cuts against the grain, can't be ignored by the powers that be.  She has bitten the proverbial hand that feeds. I fully expect that the fact finding mission will most likely end up criticizing her, denying any infringement of her academic freedom, and exonerating Montalbano (though he will likely get a backroom scolding but we will never know for sure). The reason is that the threat that Berdahl presents is a direct result of her structural location in the heart of a business school.  Ideally those who put her there would like to hear about how to get more women like Indira S or Martha P into power, how to enhance female participation in business.  That is, they want info on improving the neo-liberal corporate regime. They do not want to hear about speculations on real local power issues in which plays of masculinity (irrespective of whether the player is male or female or other) loom large. Nor do they want to hear analyses that question the basis of neo-liberal corporatism. [As an aside, the much touted female leadership at UBC doesn't prove women are equal in the power structure or that masculinity doesn't matter, in fact it's rather a Margaret Thatcher style of masculinity that is being played out here, not a third (or even second) wave feminism].

UBC is by and large a place where one can pretty much research on what ever one wants (unless you are in a business school).  However, issues that cut close to the real power at UBC or criticisms  that come from within the favoured fellows category will get slapped down hard unless we reach out to the wider public to make the case for the linkage between open research, informed unrestricted expression, and civic democracy.

Berdahl is refreshing to those of us engaged in the long battle against the corporate theft of the public good.  She has become an unlikely hero, perhaps in ways that even she might not want. She reminds us that even within the core of the beast of capitalism there are potential allies in the struggle for social justice.

Moral Rights - who cares? We all should!

1.2 The Author hereby also expressly waives, to the fullest extent permitted by law, all moral rights which the Author may now or in the future have, with respect to the Work.

I recently discovered that the above clause is standard for BC Studies (BCS), a regional journal of venerable reputation published by UBC.  The publishing agreement is one of the most restrictive that I have encountered over 25 years of academic publishing.  As an academic I am accustomed to signing away most economic rights attached to my writing. While there are academics who cash in big on their writing most of us benefit most through the simple act of publication: it’s what we are paid to do by our universities; it’s what we need to do to get tenure and to be promoted.  So, we often forego any potential economic rights in our work as the benefit is found through secure employment.

Moral rights, however, are a horse of a different colour.

Moral rights speak to an author’s ability to maintain the integrity of their work. Moral rights ensure proper attribution.  By extension moral rights are fundamental for the maintenance of one’s intellectual property rights.  If we sign away our moral rights we give up all capacity to control our work.  Giving up our moral rights is tantamount to giving up our identity as a researcher and author. So why does UBC legal counsel want us to do this?

As an author I think carefully about the way I piece a work together.  I won’t claim perfection, but I will claim forethought and consideration.  An academic’s reputation rides upon the way in which one expresses oneself. If I lose my ability to control the integrity, the ordering and shape of my work, then I have lost a critical aspect of control over the way in which my academic reputation is shaped. 

If one loses the ability to control the integrity of one’s work there is always the option of taking our name off the piece; to give up attribution.  But if one signs away moral rights one gives up the ability to take our name off a work. 

Consider the following.  Eager to get a work published we have thrown caution to the wind and have signed away our moral rights.  Then, one chances upon said work, recoils in horror with the hatchet job of a reedit. We call up the editor and demand to have our work returned to its original state or at least to take our name off the the work.  But whoops, by signing away moral rights the author has also signed away their rights to control attribution.  There is no legal remedy!

According to BCS the publishing agreement they use was designed by UBC Legal Counsel. Allegedly, the university’s lawyers were quite insistent that authors sign away their moral rights.  The clause (posted above) is quite encompassing and pretty well ensures that there is not a shred of moral rights left in the hands of an author. Why?  It doesn’t really make any sense to me.  All it looks like is an attempt to undermine by intellectual property rights of potential authors.  When I asked for an explanation for the inclusion of the clause there did not appear to be any clear understanding of whyUBC legal counsel wanted it.

I really have no clear understanding of why UBC might want to take the moral rights from authors in publications that they control?  Perhaps it allows UBC to modify, alter, and repackage the work of authors without the hassle of having to secure said author’s permission. Thus UBC could keep our name on a work while fundamentally altering the integrity of the piece, perhaps to use in online course, without ever having to let us know. But really, why would they want to?  Is there really an money to be made by cutting up an obscure academic paper on abalone, forestry, of fisheries? It seems misplaced and of no real consequence for anyone but the author. nI wasn't involved in setting up the agreement and I'm no lawyer, so I have no idea what they really were thinking: but clearly, they weren't thinking about protecting authors' rights.

This clause is of no small consequence.  

Recently, upon receiving the happy news that one of my papers had been accepted by BCS my momentary joy was dashed to pieces by the subsequent receipt of the publishing agreement. I was very surprised.  I was also disappointed.  Despite all the work that had been involved in getting to the state of acceptance I was in no mind to give away moral rights. Some scholars may feel unable to protest the moral rights clause for fear of losing BCS’ offer of publication. Others may well be so pleased with the opportunity that they didn’t stop to consider the implications of the clause. I protested. In fact I also approached other journals to see whether they too had moral rights clauses in the event UBC was intransigent.  

UBC legal eventually waived the clause for me (thank you BCS staff for asking UBC on my behalf). They provided no explanation for granting the exemption nor did they explain why they put the clause into the agreement in the first place. It is not reasonable to merely grant one author who complains an exemption.  UBC needs to remove the clause completely from all past and future publishing agreements.

The right thing to do is to delete the clause on moral rights. 

"It's up to you," UBC legal, do the right thing.