I would like to share two letters relating to this article in Inside Higher Education, which I have previously linked to on Twitter.
Nearly four years after an academic journal nixed plans to publish a piece about sex between adult and adolescent males of antiquity, the controversy is erupting again. This time, however, it’s not conservative critics yelling the loudest. A group of classicists, now twice thwarted in efforts to publish on the provocative subject, have taken aim at one of the world’s largest publishers, saying Taylor & Francis Group has placed reputational concerns above the legitimate scholarly pursuits it ought to promote.
These two letters are from the co-editors of the controversial publication referred to in the article. I want to share these because I feel this is a very important issue and so far, no one seems to want to touch it because of the controversial nature of the work. Support for legitimate scholarship should not be limited to work that you find acceptable. Librarians and other academics should not allow Taylor & Francis to block legitimate scholarship without protest.
“these actions can only be characterized as corporate “censorship” of scholarship on issues deemed to be politically or socially controversial. Such corporate censorship poses a threat to the most fundamental values of free inquiry and expression, which should be subject only to the quality-control of academic peer review and not to political meddling by outside pressure groups or weak-principled corporate managers who feel a need to kowtow to such pressure groups pre-emptively”
by Thomas Hubbard in his letter to the vice-president of Professional Matters in the American Philological Association. You can read the full letter here:
The second letter is from Beert Verstraete to the Co-ordinating Committee for ACRL. The full letter is reproduced below:
June 11, 2009
Dear Ms Thistle:
Dr Tom Hubbard, Professor of Classics at the University of Texas in Austin, recommended that I write you and the other members of your Committee. He in turn was advised by Ms Gretchen Lieb, Reference Librarian at Vassar College, that such an approach should be made. This letter is essentially the same, except for the necessary changes and some updating, as the one I wrote a month ago to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, from whom, however, I received a reply to the effect that they were not prepared to take any action as an organization—instead, I was advised to contact individual members of the ALA.
Together with the aforementioned Dr Hubbard (who joined as co-editor recently) and Dr John De Cecco, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at San Francisco State University and also, until recently, General Editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, I am the co-editor of what was to be a special thematic issue of the Journal of Homosexuality, provisionally entitled, Sexual Intimacy between Adult and Adolescent Males. The case I am bringing to your attention is a serious one of intellectual censorship exercised by the publisher of the Journal, namely the Taylor and Francis Group. The events and developments leading up to the present state of affairs go back to the Fall of 2005, so in the next few paragraphs I will provide you with a succinct account of what happened between September 2005 and April 2009.
In the Fall of 2005, the Haworth Press, which at that time was the publisher of the Journal, was slated to publish a special thematic issue entitled, Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West. Dr Vernon Provencal, my colleague in Classics here at Acadia University, and I myself were the co-editors of this collection of papers, which were contributed by a large number of scholars from the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. The collection, which was also to be published in book format, concluded with a paper by Dr Bruce Rind, who was at that time teaching psychology at Temple University. His article examined pederasty from a combination of contemporary psychological, social-critical, anthropological, cross-species, and biological perspectives. Prior to publication, the Haworth Press posted on its website a notice and advertisement of the upcoming book together with the abstracts of the papers contained in it. In the second half of September 2005, the abstract of Dr Rind’s article caught the attention of a conservative internet news group, the WorldNetDaily, and led its contributors to make the baseless accusation that he was not only condoning but even advocating “sex with children.” Not surprisingly, a major controversy ensued, and immense pressure was placed on the Haworth Press to cancel the book and the special Journal issue. On the other hand, various individuals and groups also spoke up vigorously, urging the publisher to honor the principle of the unimpeded dissemination of scholarship, science, and ideas, and not to go ahead with cancelling these two publications—which, as Dr Provencal and I had already discovered by pure chance, the Haworth Press had done de facto by deleting the notice and advertisement from their website. I suspect the intervention by a few members of the American Library Association proved to be critical in swaying the Haworth Press to rescind their earlier decision.
On October 11th 2005 a compromise was reached between, on the one hand, the Haworth Press and, on the other, the co-editors, the General Editor of the Journal, and Dr Rind: the special issue and the book would be published (as they indeed were the following December) minus Rind’s article. However, Rind would be invited to revise and expand his paper for publication in another special issue of the Journal; other scholars and professionals would then be invited to critique the revised article, and, finally, Dr Rind would be given the opportunity to respond to his critics—all this in the same special issue of the Journal. Dr John De Cecco, the General Editor at that time, and I myself agreed to be the co-editors of this prospective publication.
Dr Rind undertook what turned out to be a massive revision and expansion of his original paper, and completed his work in February 2007. I (who did nearly all of the contacting and soliciting) then took great care to invite experts on both sides of the question to critique his article. In the end, the co-editors had good reason to be pleased with the quality of the articles contributed, which came from scholars and professionals in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Belgium, and the Netherlands—not a few of them enjoying long-standing reputations in their respective fields. By the end of February of this year, Dr Rind had completed what was to be his response to his critics, and I had written the combined Preface and Introduction. Mr Jay Harcourt, our editorial assistant, was by that time already busy rounding up the remaining still-needed abstracts and bios from the contributors, and at the beginning of April sent the manuscript to the Taylor and Francis Group, the huge multinational publishing company which had bought the Haworth Press in 2007, including Haworth’s large number of journal publications.
You can imagine my shock when on the morning of Wednesday, April 15th, I read a brief e-mail communication (dated April 14th and also sent to De Cecco and Harcourt) from Ms Kathryn Rutz, Acquisitions Editor, Behavioral Science and Social Work, with the Taylor and Francis Group—she had worked previously for the Haworth Press and knew John De Cecco well—the main text of which read as follows:
After review of the manuscripts of your guest-edited special issue, Sexual Intimacy between Adult and Adolescent Males, which was sent to us for publication in the Journal of Homosexuality 56 (5/6), a decision has been made not to publish this material. We appreciate the opportunity to consider the articles for publication, but choose not to proceed.
As you can see, the reason(s) for this decision was / were not specified. I exchanged a few e-mails with Ms Rutz subsequently, but learned nothing more: as Ms Rutz put it in a later e-mail, the Taylor & Francis management had made a “judgment” and that “judgment” was “final.” I did have a telephone conversation with Ms Rutz on April 27, in which, she told me, in response to one of my questions, that the decision had been made, as I had suspected all along, at a higher level of management which was well acquainted with the sequence of events leading up to the proposed special issue, especially the controversy surrounding the 2005 book and special issue, and that one could “infer” that management did not want a repetition of such controversy. From my account, you can see that Taylor & Francis did not observe the professional courtesy of warning the co-editors well in advance that it might have qualms about going ahead with publication: its message of April 14th came at a point when the preparations for publication had reached their final phase.
I am well aware that the Taylor and Francis Group has no legal-contractual obligation to myself and Dr De Cecco, or to the Journal of Homosexuality as a whole with regard to the publication of the proposed special issue. Nevertheless, one must hold the company’s management and owners to the most fundamental intellectual and moral obligation resting upon them as publishers, namely that of not obstructing the unimpeded dissemination of scholarship, science, and ideas. More specifically, this translates, in our case, into the obligation to abide by the judgment of the editors as to what is or not to be published.
I cite now from the Aims and Scope of the Journal of Homosexuality as advertised on the Journal’s website:
The Journal of Homosexuality is devoted to scholarly research on homosexuality, including sexual practices and gender roles and their cultural, historical, interpersonal, and modern social contexts. More particularly the Journal has the following purposes:
to serve the allied disciplinary and professional groups represented by anthropology, art, history, the law, literature, philosophy, politics, religion, and sociology, as well as research in the biological sciences, medicine, psychiatry, and psychology…
to serve as a vehicle for the international dissemination of research on homosexuality by scholars throughout the world…
You will agree that, in their decision not to publish, the management of the Taylor and Francis Group are acting contrary to the above-stated Aims of the Journal, and indeed are in direct and most serious violation of their fundamental obligations as publishers which I just underlined.
As I noted earlier in this letter, the intervention by members of the ALA in October 2005 was probably critical in saving the earlier special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality of which I was co-editor. Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the beginning of my letter, the Office of the Intellectual Obligation of ALA has declined to assist us as an organization, although it is possible that some individual members of the ALA may still join us in registering a vigorous protest regarding the so-called “judgment’ the management of Taylor& Francis has seen fit to exercise.
I should finally mention that, as the result of lengthy discussions among Bruce Rind, Tom Hubbard, and myself, the provisional title of our collection of papers is now: Age-Structured Male Homosexuality: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives. Ms Rutz has been informed of this change.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.
I am sending this letter also by ordinary mail.
Beert Verstraete, PhD
Professor of Classics /Head of the Department of History and Classics
If you find this corporate interference in an academic publication as objectionable as I do, please make your objections known. Help publicise this issue and write to Taylor and Francis to let them know how you feel.