With this issue, my editorship of Academic Matters comes to a close. Endings also herald new directions as the editorship passes to Graeme Stewart, who skilfully manages communications for the journal’s publisher—the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA).
Now would seem a good time to reflect on what has transpired since Academic Matters began publication six years ago and what the future might hold.
Academic Matters began in 2005 as an idea. The intention was to create a journal offering thoughtful reflections on academia, written in an accessible style and reaching a broad audience in universities and beyond. While published by OCUFA, it was never intended to be the official voice of the organization. We have other publications which meet that need. The perspectives expressed could span the ideological spectrum—and sometimes these views have contradicted those of the publisher. We weren’t looking for ideological consistency or purity. It was hoped that articles would be provocative in the best sense of the term—to provoke thought and informed response. And the topics covered were to be wide ranging.
Our conceit was to be the Harper’s or The Walrus of academia—with commentaries, research articles, review essays, fiction, and humour. We felt there was a void in higher education coverage in Canada and envisioned a journal where each issue focused on a theme that was covered in some depth and could be easily understood by someone unfamiliar with the topic.
We wished to attract high-profile contributors as well as those who were not as well-known but had interesting things to say. And we wanted to give academics—and those outside academia—the opportunity to reflect on the academic world and write about it.
I believe on a number of counts the journal has been successful.
Contributors have included Michael Ignatieff (just before he entered politics), the philosopher Mark Kingwell, Giller-prize finalists Camilla Gibb and Kim Echlin, political scientists Tom Flanagan, James Laxer, and Janice Stein, ethicist Margaret Somerville, environmentalist David Suzuki, poet and novelist George Elliot Clarke, Islamic studies professor Tariq Ramadan, historian Michael Bliss, Nobel Prize physicist Carl Wieman, economist Richard Lipsey, and education reformer Bill Ayers. There is certainly no ideological consistency here.
The range of issues covered so far have included religion on campus, gender and equity in academe, tenure, marketing the academy, today’s generation of students and faculty, the impact of technology on campus, academic restructuring, ethics, internationalization, the green campus, and the relationship between media and academia.
Articles in the journal have been cited or reprinted in a range of Canadian and international publications, including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and University World News.
And the journal has thrived in no small measure due to the expertise, wisdom, and support of many. These include OCUFA’s former executive director, Henry Mandelbaum, former associate editors Trish Hennessy and Wendy Cuthbertson, OCUFA’s Executive and Board, the Academic Matters Editorial Board, and the innovative team at Neglia Design.
As a small journal, Academic Matters also faces challenges. It cannot survive by advertising revenue alone and will likely always need a subsidy from its publisher. The journal relies for articles on the academic culture of unpaid contributions, in the name of service to the “community”. This is an important strength, but also a vulnerability. We now receive more unsolicited contributions than we can publish. But as the academic culture becomes more infused with a commercial ethos, there is the question of how long a publication can rely on unpaid contributions. A host of practical as well as ethical considerations come into play.
A journal like Academic Matters must innovate and change in order to maintain its readers’ interest. We continue to look for different ways of putting together the journal and its website. This issue is a new venture, a joint partnership between Academic Matters and guest editor, University of Western Ontario professor of education Rebecca Coulter, who suggested its theme, “Policing Relations on Campus,” and who recruited most of the contributors.
What of the future? Academe is a fascinating place, in some ways unlike other work worlds and in others ways subject to the wrenching currents that pervade elsewhere. Under a new editor, and through some soon-to-be announced innovations, the journal will maintain a lively debate about the issues that matter to the academic community.
Mark Rosenfeld is Editor-in-Chief of Academic Matters and Executive Director of OCUFA.