Top journal suspends submissions, hurting UMN academia

University of Minnesota higher education researchers have few options to publish work.

by Austen Macalus

The Review of Higher Education temporarily halted submissions last month, a decision that is affecting researchers at schools across the country, including the University of Minnesota. 

The move comes after the Review, one of the top journals in the field of higher education research and the official journal for the Association for the Study of Higher Education, built up a two-year backlog of accepted work. 

“We’re a victim of our own success,” said Gary Pike, the editor of the Review and a professor of higher education and student affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. “Over the last three years, we’ve had a substantial growth in the number of manuscripts coming in,” he said. 

The moratorium has been problematic for faculty members at research institutions like the University of Minnesota, many faculty say.

It typically takes several months, sometimes several years, to get published in top journals. The problem occurs across academic fields, said Michael Stebleton, an associate professor of higher education at the University.

“There’s a pressure to publish for scholars as well as graduate students. … That’s how people are rewarded,” he said. 

Stebleton said this is especially true for academics in the early stages of their careers, who are looking to get published in high-tier journals.

Most journals usually maintain a backlog on purpose, Pike said, to ensure they have enough content for issues. However, the current backlog has overwhelmed editors of the Review, he said.

“That’s not good for the scholars … it’s not good for the journal,” Pike said. “As Yogi Bear said, ‘If you’re in a hole, quit digging.’” 

The Review is a quarterly journal published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. It publishes around 20 articles every year. Last year, the Review received over 350 submissions, Pike said. 

This increase is a double-edged sword. It means more better-quality articles, Pike said, but also longer wait-times for researchers looking to submit work.

“I’m trying to see the silver lining in it,” Stebleton said. “We’re having high quality submissions from very dedicated scholars.” 

Pike said the Review is looking at doubling the amount of articles published in each edition and at putting more articles up online. 

“We need to have a plan in place to take care of this issue,” Pike said.  He hopes to re-open submissions by early winter. 

In the meantime, researchers will have to wait or find another way to publish. There are only a handful of journals focused on higher-education research, said Stebleton, so some may end up submitting work to less prestigious journals. 

“It may be that other journals emerge to handle the overflow,” said David Weerts, coordinator of higher education programs at the University, in an email to the Minnesota Daily. “This is an issue that the field has to deal with somehow,” he said. 

It took Rashne Jehangir, a University professor of higher education, nine months to complete her manuscript, a 10,000-word analysis of first-generation college students and social class. She said she had planned to submit her work to the Review in mid-August.

Jehangir said she sees the situation as a systemic issue with academic publishing — some academics have faulted the peer-review process.

Unsure what’s next for her manuscript, she’s looking at submitting to other journals or waiting for the Review to begin accepting submissions again. 

But she said she knows that will be a long wait. 

“I’m at kind of a pause right now,” Jehangir said.