The Practice of Peer Review and the Quality of Scholarship (Editorial Reflections)

I’m about a year and a half into this editor gig and continue to engage in introspection, reflection and analysis about how exactly peer-review functions in the world of scholarly journal publishing. Though I have a strong record of publication in peer-reviewed journals and did prior to starting my term as editor, there is so much about scholarly publishing that is opaque. Before applying to serve as editor, I read Do We Still Need Peer Review? An Argument for Change by Thomas Gould. And I regularly follow the ongoing sagas of higher education publishing crises around predatory journals and the publish or perish mentality that has come to (if sloppily) be shorthand for the cutthroat world of the tenure track.

That being said, I decided that so little is said about how editing and peer review works that I want to write a little bit about what I have been doing, realizing, and concluding throughout this process. In part, (spoiler alert) this blog is inspired by the article I read in Inside Higher Ed recently called “Publication by Chance,” which reports in from a recent study of peer review practices. As the story reports on the shortcomings of the peer review process: “it can miss major errors in submitted papers, leaves room for luck or chance in publication decisions, and is subject to confirmation bias among peer reviewers. Given those factors, he says, it’s “natural to inquire whether the structure of the process influences its outcomes.”  What the study eventually concludes is

The best-performing system in the study was unilateral editor decision system without desk rejection, meaning all papers were read by reviewers but the editor had final say about publication: just 6 percent of papers published under that system had reader evaluations under 0.65 (meaning that just 6 percent of papers were believed to be worse than 35 percent of other papers in the simulation population). If editors desk-rejected 50 percent of papers under the unilateral editor decision, that share fell to 1 percent.

After close to two years of finding my own way on what it means to be an editor–what it means to be a gatekeeper for what counts as new knowledge in the field, or to create the future historical record of the scholarly priorities of a discipline. Whew. That’s a big responsibility. And it’s a big responsibility to sort out independently, even it if it is with the vetting and imprimatur of the colleagues who review and (in my case) sponsorship from a national organization who put me here.

Things I Have Learned

  • Reader reports (peer reviewers) vary wildly in their quality and perspective and you can’t always anticipate whose will offer what insights. Taken together, they tend to offer a good picture of a) what readers can and will want and b) how and whether the manuscript being reviewed lines up with the quality expectations of journal readership
  • Writers don’t expect desk rejection, even though a lot of journals make this a regular practice for approximately 50% of their submissions; in the Esarey study, this practice actually increased (according to his methodology) the overall quality of the published submissions, but with TETYC I don’t see this as the function of the journal. We encourage new writers to benefit from the expertise and time of the scholars in the field, and this necessarily involves circulating manuscripts for feedback that may not be, intuitively, the best fit for the journal. I’m not willing to let me personal judgment (which even if it is an informed one, will be framed by my own interests, preferences, and unconscious biases) unilaterally weed out half of all submissions.
  • On a related note, I’m realizing that I can’t always know what the final version of a manuscript will look like. Something that I may not personally be all that excited about, through the process of revising and resubmitting, can be transformed through reviewer feedback, editorial direction, and the time and efforts of writers.
  • Reviewers are grateful for the opportunity to a) see what other reviewers actually wrote and, at the very least, b) see what other reviewers recommended. It makes me realize we’re all operating in these different hallways and seeking opportunities to have conversations about our judgements.

Where I Am Now

Perhaps this blog entry is a just a way of taking a public rhetorical sigh–that for all the “feeling my way through” I’ve been doing in the last two years, I intuitively came to the conclusion that Esarey’s research study did, which is that good peer reviewed scholarship is a balance of open circulation; expert review; diverse opinions, thoughtfully rendered; and independent decision-making on the part of a person who sits at a distance (not quite an archimedean point, but something like it) and makes a call. I hope to grow as an editor and in my ability to continue to build a scholarly foundation for the field that gives people what they need in order to do good work in their classrooms, in their writing, and in their institutions.



Call for Book Reviews

The book review editors at TETYC invite drafts or proposals for book reviews of the new books that are relevant to our field. We are particularly interested in reviews of books that are relevant to our upcoming special issues.

-Preparing Two-Year College Faculty:


-Academic Freedom in the Two-Year College: 

Please read about writing book reviews for TETYC here. Send queries and proposals to the book review editors: 

Mark Blaauw-Hara, North Central Michigan College


Sheri Rysdam, Utah Valley University

Finished drafts can be upload directly to the TETYC Editorial Manager site.

We look forward to reading about what you’ve been reading!

Sheri & Mark

Book Review Editors 

TETYC Special Issue 2018: Academic Freedom in the TYC

May 2018 Special Issue of TETYC:

Academic Freedom and the Teaching of English in the Two-Year College

Many of us teaching in higher education have recognized important changes to the cultural, financial, structural, and ethical aspects of postsecondary teaching, from the increasing reliance on contingent faculty to a decline in state funding contributions to public colleges, and an increasing emphasis on corporate management models. These converging factors are reshaping higher education, but have a particular resonance for two-year college English instructors who work with a wide range of students, take on many uncompensated service and administrative responsibilities, and often work off the tenure track. Further, two-year colleges traditionally have had fewer traditions of shared/faculty governance than our university counterparts. As a result, our institutions may be affected disproportionately by these paradigm shifts in higher education.

Within this context, TETYC invites proposals for articles or other features focused on the special issue theme of “Academic Freedom and Teaching English in the Two-Year College.” (See the Information for Authors page for an overview of the types of pieces the journal publishes). I imagine this theme expansively, with the following suggested topics or themes serving as a starting point:

  • Contingency, expectations of continuing employment, and short-term or long-term contract faculty
  • Teaching and learning conditions, and working conditions more broadly
  • State contexts, including legislative influence on higher education institutions within specific states
  • Curricular regularization /standardization
  • Faculty autonomy–influenced by employment status or other factors, deprofessionalizing or professionalizing efforts within institutions or other contexts
  • Imposition of corporate models on the two-year college mission; reductions in state funding and disinvestment in public higher education–impacts, consequences, opportunities?
  • Ongoing faculty development in two-year college English (including institutional and departmental training for instructors)
  • How we develop our programs within the 21st century college and other contexts
  • Liberal education, vocational education, and the multipronged missions of two-year colleges
  • Faculty protections and job security inflected differently across the states, including assaults on public unions, threats to tenure and shared governance; legislation mandating right-to-work policies, etc
  • The risks and rewards of teacher-scholar-activist work; with a greater need than ever for faculty advocacy, what are the risks of such work (see Sullivan, 2015)?

Timeline and Process

Unlike prior calls for special issues which seek complete manuscripts, the TETYC editor and editorial board hope to work with authors closely throughout the process of developing manuscripts.

  • Proposals of 500 words are invited for submission by December 1, 2016. Authors should remove all identifying references to their identities or institutions; the proposals should identify the type of manuscript (feature article, instructional note, symposium, review essay, etc) as well as key arguments and sources, the exigency and importance of the topic to readers of TETYC.
  • Please submit proposals to the TETYC Editorial Manager site; when the dropdown menu appears, select “Proposal for Special Issue” as the “Article Type.”
  • Proposals will be reviewed by the Editorial Board, with authors of pieces selected for inclusion to be notified by March 20 2017. Complete manuscripts will be due to the TETYC submission system, Editorial Manager, by August 15, 2017. Revision suggestions will be provided by October 1, 2017, and final manuscripts are due to the editor by December, 30, 2017.

Resources and References

TETYC Special Issue: Preparing Two-Year College Faculty

CFP: Special Issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College
“Preparing Two-Year College English Faculty”
September 2017

In July, 2017, an updated organizational statement from the Two-Year College English Association, “Guidelines for the Graduate Preparation of Two-Year College English Faculty,’ will appear in College English (and will also, subsequently, appear in TETYC in September). Aimed at graduate programs, the document updates the 2004 “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges” and spells out standards for best preparing two-year college English professionals.  To build on this work, the September 2017 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College will focus on the special issue theme of “Preparing Two-Year College English Faculty.” The journal invites submission of full manuscripts related to this theme.

A rich scholarly body of work across the discipline has identified how best to prepare instructors for success in the two-year college English classroom (see Andelora; Toth; Toth, Griffiths, and Thirolf; Lovas; Sullivan; Hassel and Giordano; Hassel; TYCA). Building on this foundation, I invite submissions that speak to the ongoing work of preparing faculty for the unique teaching environments of two-year college English (including writing of all types, literary studies, and other areas of teaching and professional activity). Submissions might address the following topics:

  • Department, institutional, or state-sponsored faculty development
  • Effective or ineffective graduate school/training models
  • Post-graduate preparation for teaching
  • The role of assessment
  • Ongoing faculty development
  • Strategies for effective departmental collaborations, including writing across the curriculum and writing in the disciplines
  • Model programs
  • Challenges of professional development in two-year colleges (see Klausman)
  • Internal and external forms of professional development for instructors
  • Tensions or objections to ‘faculty development” (see Penrose)
  • Fiscal, intellectual, disciplinary, or state/local contexts and constraints shaping faculty development
  • Using classroom or program-level data to shape professional development activities
  • Inter-institutional collaborations
  • The risks, rewards, and challenges of collective work (vs. individual scholarship)
  • Strategies for creating integrated teaching, service, and research responsibilities in the two-year college
  • The role of administration in faculty development

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list; submission cover letters should specify how the manuscript advances this special issue theme.

Complete essay submissions should be received by the editor for consideration in the special issue by December 1, 2016. Authors should follow the submission guidelines for Feature Articles, Instructional Notes, Symposia, Review Essays, or What Works for Me manuscripts available at the TETYC webpage, including submission via the Editorial Manager system.

References and Related Sources