Please reject me: a survivor’s guide to ‘publish or perish’

Thanks but no thanks, William. Stubey/Flickr

A new way for academics to survive the “publish or perish” imperative has emerged.

The imperative itself is not new: commentators in the 1950s were already lamenting the growing pressure for academics to publish more and more.

Yet something has changed. Increasingly utilitarian demands on higher education to justify its claim on the public purse and the growing obsession with research assessment exercises have now made ‘publish or perish’ appear a cosy mantra from more happier times.

It is not enough to just publish now. The new condition is: “Publish in the Most Prestigious Journals or Perish”.

But which are the most prestigious journals? It is well known that ERA ratings are a poor guide to quality, with concerted campaigning able to boost the ratings of intellectually weaker journals and higher quality research in smaller journals being ignored.

How can we overcome not only these unfair ways of judging journals but also the increasing levels of stress and anxiety created by the new ERA culture?

Caleb Emmons, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Pacific University in Oregon, USA, has found one way of levelling the playing field.

He has gathered a group of academics from around the world, myself included, to edit what has become the most exclusive academic journal in the world: the JoUR.

I jumped at the chance. Busy though I am with teaching, researching, publishing, editing on two other international journals, the JoUR was too much of an opportunity to turn down.

What made it such an enticing idea? One could point to the editorial board being multidisciplinary and international.

As well as myself (sociology of education, University of Sydney), there are associate editors from the USA, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Romania, Germany, New Zealand, the UK, Italy and France.

Moreover, the disciplines covered range from history, philosophy and poetry through business, social work and engineering to chemistry, physics and biology.

But it is not the range of countries or disciplines that makes the JoUR unique. Nor is it that the JoUR solicits work of all kinds, from scientific articles to visual art, in any format.

Rather, it is what those letters stand for: the Journal of Universal Rejection. Judged by acceptance rate, ours is the most prestigious journal you can find, for we reject everything.

Whatever is sent to us, we reject. Published four times a year since early 2009, the journal has yet to include an article.

This is not for want of submissions: volume 3, issue number 1 (March 2011) was empty, but only as a result of rejecting 352 submissions.

In rejecting everything, we believe we have found a solution to ever-rising levels of anxiety in higher education.

Academics worried about their annual performance review or postgraduate students concerned about needing to build their CVs for a competitive marketplace no longer have to suffer.

No more waiting long months for reviews. No more disappointment as once again lazy reviewers hide behind anonymity to ask for major changes without giving reasons.

No more trying to figure out just what to do about diametrically opposed reviews which a lazy editor has failed to bring together.

With the Journal of Universal Rejection, whether waiting briefly or for months, you know already that rejection is guaranteed. In a sea of troubles, we are providing a small island of certainty.

Moreover, your work can be submitted elsewhere at the same time in the certain knowledge that copyright will be not breached. So, rejection can come hand-in-hand alongside whatever fate awaits you elsewhere.

The Journal of Universal Rejection is also, we believe, a major boon for university libraries. Faced with dwindling funds and pressures of space, the JoUR represents the way forward for journal publishing in the twenty-first century.

As recent events at UNSW and current debates at the University of Sydney are showing, libraries are replacing dangerous and dusty bookshelves with beanbags and coffee shops, and outdated books with e-journals and downloads.

The Journal of Universal Rejection is 120 British pounds every year in any format, but comes with a guarantee that no money will ever exchange hands and no space will ever be taken up, whether real or virtual.

Lastly, those in the humanities and social sciences who claim to be “critical” or “radical” but publish in mainstream journals no longer have to live lives of such hypocrisy.

They can now submit their work to a journal that does not serve the social reproduction function of cultural reproduction, to quote Bourdieu, or perpetuate technologies of governmentality, to Foucauldise.

JoUR lies beyond the circle of symbolic violence by embodying universal symbolic violence.

It is entirely democratic and fully inclusive in excluding everyone. It embodies protest, whatever you’re protesting against, or for.

Publish or perish? We believe we’ve found the answer: submit to rejection.

More information about the Journal of Universal Rejection can be found at: http://www.universalrejection.org

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