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Letters to the editor


The great people that we rely on daily

I am very happy to see the article, “A day in the life of a university maintenance department” (September issue). Having worked closely over the years with the great people that keep universities humming, I think it is important for us all to acknowledge how much we rely on them – both on a day-to-day basis and in emergencies. I hope we see more articles like this in the future.

Jim Nicell
Dr. Nicell is a professor and dean of engineering at McGill University, and was formerly McGill’s associate vice-principal, university services.


It was ever thus

I long ago gave up blind submissions to journals where I am not known (“The trolls have infested academic peer review,” September issue). Fortunately for me, there are many other ways to publish strong work (outside of the sciences and social sciences, at least). Open review is the answer, I think – both the author and the reviewers should know each other’s identity. That is the only way to ensure real accountability. Many European publishers used to employ a similar process, though “double-blind” review has been forced on them by the administrative needs of faculty members in the Anglosphere. And, by the way, I started submitting articles well before the internet age and reviewers’ comments were often just as irrational, bloody-minded, uninformed, misguided, belligerent, disdainful, disrespectful and downright ornery then as now!

Andrew Gow
Dr. Gow is a professor emeritus in the faculty of arts at the University
of Alberta.


Never, ever

In four decades of submitting scholarly work, I have never received the sort of snide review that Ryan Bullock mentions (“The trolls have infested academic peer review,” September issue). Nor have I ever written this sort of review. Anyone receiving such a review should complain to the editor who selected this reviewer, attaching a copy of the review. Any editor worth their salt would immediately stop using such a reviewer and would discount their recommendation.

David Hitchcock
Dr. Hitchcock retired as a professor of philosophy at McMaster University in 2014.


There are better ways

I published my first paper, in the life and earth sciences, in 1987. As an author I, too, have seen much boorish, arrogant and hypocritical reviewing, and as a reviewer have seen equally arrogant, boorish and hypocritical responses by authors to my reviews (“The trolls have infested academic peer review,” September issue). I have also seen both very ethical and credible reviews and reviewing as an author and as an associate editor for a journal, and some truly good handling of poor review practices by editors. However, I have also seen editors drop the ball and let bad review practices happen, and have resorted to calling them out on these lapses – not always with success. As a consequence, I do think the blind review – or “anonymous review,” as its more commonly called in the physical sciences – has had its day.

Some European journals, such as those published by Copernicus Press (primarily in English), follow an open-review model where anyone in the discipline can post comments on an article under review, which is published first online as a discussion paper. The two to three official reviewers also have their reviews published online, along with the authors’ responses. From what I have seen of these, as both an author and a reviewer, the informal and formal reviews are collegial, constructive and helpful to the authors. And, as far as I can tell, there is no diminishment in quality, and papers in these journals command high citation rates and other impact metrics. For my graduate students, they say this is a far more attractive opportunity for publishing and a far more positive experience.

David Greenwood
Dr. Greenwood is a professor in the department of biology at Brandon University.


Poor judgment – or judgement?

I’m sure many will have particularly funny examples of outrageous comments from reviewers (“The trolls have infested academic peer review,” September issue). My own personal favourite was a reviewer who began with a number of vague and negatively toned remarks which were so off the mark that it seemed as if I had received a review of someone else’s submission in error. Then he or she went on to take issue with my spelling of “judgement.” Rather than recognizing that “judgement” and “judgment” are acceptable variants, with one perhaps being more common in the U.S. or Canada than the other, the referee claimed that there was a difference in meaning and my variant made no sense in the context. This was followed with some insinuations about my educational background.

Karl Pfeifer
Dr. Pfeifer is a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan and an affiliate in philosophy at Monash University in Australia.


Boycott bad reviewers

A major part of the problem lies with the editors and the editorial board (“The trolls have infested academic peer review,” September issue). Most journal editors leave the review process to be handled by their executive assistants, who routinely just forward the referee comments to the authors and are tasked with rejecting a paper if the comments are not fully favourable. If journals honestly care about the review process, the editors should boycott any referee who makes such comments as those the author of this article mentions. Further, the editors should also penalize such unethical referees by barring them from submitting their own papers to the journal for a period of two or three years.

P. Sundararajan
Dr. Sundararajan is a professor emeritus of chemistry at Carleton University.


Student unions improve student life

I’d like to respond to the article, “Following a series of controversies, do student unions need more oversight?” University Affairs online, August 6). As the former president of a student union with no allegations of financial mismanagement during my time there, I think this article misses the point somewhat. At institutions where a campus culture of collegiality is fostered, and doors are left open between student union executives and the university administration, great success can be achieved, while also maintaining a critical back-and-forth debate.

While I have had my fair share of disagreements with my university’s board of governors and the administration, we were always able to maintain mutual respect for the other party’s mission and context. When I was president, we were able to host controversial events and engage in protests (even against our administration) without creating the “us” versus “them” mentality the current Ontario government is fostering with its Student Choice Initiative.

While the media have been doing a good job highlighting where student unions have been struggling of late, I want to remind everyone that most student unions have been flourishing. Here at Trent University, the student experience has been greatly enhanced through the construction of a new student centre, which opened in September 2017, thanks to the efforts and vision of the Trent Central Student Association. Additionally, the $10.5-million loan the TCSA had to take out to finance the building’s construction was guaranteed by the university because of the sound processes and oversight mechanisms the student association has in place(which also allows them to oversee university-wide services such as transit and other benefits).

The good reputation of student unions across the country should not be tarnished by the transgressions of the few who have struggled recently. And, let’s remember that the accountability measures within the Ryerson Students’ Union were effective in discovering the problem and getting the association back on track. I would like to call on all those reading this to investigate the great work being done by the student unions operating at their institutions and take the time to get to know the people putting in the effort to make this work happen.

Brandon Remmelgas
Mr. Remmelgas is pursuing a Master of Education degree at Trent University and is the vice-president, finance, of the Trent Graduate Students’ Association.


Important work on an important topic

The Dispatches on Academic Freedom column (at University Affairs online) is one of the best that University Affairs has done – and that is saying a lot. With each article, I find a new way of thinking about academic freedom in a more intentional and clear manner. Perhaps more importantly, this series has sharpened and strengthened my moral commitment to academic freedom! In the interest of full disclosure, the author works at the same university as I do. Even so, I will take the risk of embarrassing my colleague by saying how much I admire her work on this important issue.

David Seljak
Dr. Seljak is a professor and chair of the department of religious studies at the University of Waterloo.