News: Academic Publishing Weekly

Another acquisition, survey on online learning, and the ethics of fossil fuel publications

By Choice Staff
Academic Publishing Weekly: the latest curated news from around the industry. Purple background, white lettering.

Veritas Buys HMH

Say hello to another merger: Private investment firm and “technology investor” Veritas Capital will acquire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) for $2.8 billion. HMH sold its trade division last spring to focus on its education and technology output, pivoting away from textbooks and into the realm of digital products. In the press release for the merger, president of HMH Jack Lynch underscored this point, noting, “As the promise of digital learning increasingly takes hold across the nation, we are confident this transaction will deepen our ability to bring the power of learning to even more teachers and their students.” I realize this doesn’t involve thousands of briefcases filled with cash, but can you imagine standing in a room with almost three billion dollars? I need to go lie down. [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

Ethical Quandary: Publishers and Climate Research

How dedicated are publishers to progressive climate action if they’re publishing research in support of fossil fuel expansion? The Guardian unpacks the predicament of publishers like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley sharing commitments to clean and sustainable energy while also working directly with oil and drill companies on journals or consultancy services. The publishers in question raise the point of editorial independence; journal editors can choose to publish what they please. However, climate crisis academics clearly hold a different opinion. [The Guardian]

If the same publisher putting out the papers that show definitively we can’t burn any more fossil fuels and stay within this carbon budget is also helping the fossil fuel industry do just that, what does that do to the whole premise of validity around the climate research? 

Dr. Kimberly Nicholas, Lund University 

Speaking of Ethics…

Peter Berkery and Annette Windhorn of the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) shared “The Ethical Imperative of the University Press,” which walks through AUPresses’ mission, goals, and core values. Berkery and Windhorn explain the importance of intellectual freedom, integrity, stewardship, and diversity & inclusion as guiding principles in the university press community, and present the work member presses do in support of these values. Overall, they argue that university presses have a responsibility to uphold ethical standards, and emphasize their “important roles to play in the construction and adoption of robust ethical goals and just strategies that will improve and advance the global knowledge ecosystem.” [Association of University Presses]

Research “Pain Points” and Diversity Tracking Requirements

Springer Nature announced a new strategy to address research “pain points” of slow publication timelines and a lack of interdisciplinary partnerships. In what will eventually result in a book series, the “Crosstracts” format will speed up research publication and require peer reviewers from different disciplines. In other news, publishers are working together to develop diversity tracking requirements for research journals. Researchers will face a set of questions on race, ethnicity, and gender during the submission, editing, and review processes. There currently lacks a standardized, global, and centralized effort to gather demographic data; publishers hope this move will help reveal gaps in representation and issues of bias within academic publishing.

The Positives of Online Learning

The National Survey of Student Engagement released the second part of its annual report on higher education. Despite the challenges of emergency remote teaching, participants’ responses were largely positive. Of the thousands of students surveyed, almost three-quarters “believed that faculty and staff at their institution did ‘a good job’ helping students adapt to remote instruction.” The survey examined how faculty adjusted teaching and assessment styles for an online learning environment, finding trends of greater flexibility and fluidity in policies. The report also delved into the breakdown of hybrid versus remote course enrollment and student mental health. [Inside Higher Ed]