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Final Exam – Hypothetical Example
For the purposes of this exam imagine that you are Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis.
Recently, a number of problems have come to your attention with regard to the
deployment of human resources at the University of Melbourne, especially with regard
to academic staff. And you have made it your priority to engage with these issues.
You have assessed the situation and you have concluded that three problems stand
out: first, the power that academic publishers hold over academic staff; second, the
power that senior academics hold over junior academic staff; and third, the
impediments to multi-disciplinary research pertaining to a task force. You have
decided to embark on a detailed analysis and see if there is scope for strategic
change. Whilst all issues are current, all concrete examples in this exam are fictional.
Question 1 (25 marks)
You recently attended a party at a global conference on tertiary education. The
event was hosted by Elsevier, one of the largest and most profitable academic
publishers in the world. In ending his welcome speech Ron Mobed, CEO of Elsevier,
thanked the academic communities smugly: ‘[…] and thank you for making us rich!”
Whilst the comment was made tongue-in-cheek, the comment reminded you wryly of
the sad state of affairs where the commercial publishers have the universities in a
virtual stranglehold. Back in 2012 a group of Australian academics tried to challenge
the might of Elsevier to no effect (Norrie, 2012; see reference below). Most of the major
academic journals are owned by the commercial academic publishers, yet most of
the actual work is being done by academics, largely on a non-salaried basis. This
process starts with the supply of state-of-the-art research articles from academics
globally that then enter a very thorough quality control system when they are
submitted to an academic journal. Next, a panel of academic editors judge the work
of their fellow academics on their scientific merit through the so-called peer-review
system. The time between the date of the first submission of a manuscript to its actual
publication date can span several years, as many revisions and review requests have
to be accommodated in the meantime. Upon getting a publication accepted, the
academic author has to sign a publication contract, where they typically relinquish all
copyrights and publication right to the commercial publisher. The academic publisher
then sells these academic publications back to libraries of universities for a hefty fee,
where a subscription to a single academic journal could easily fetch $2000 annually. In
turn, a reputable library cannot afford not to subscribe to the top academic
publications, especially since it is tasked with providing access to the key academic
publication outlets in the respective academic disciplines. As a result, a typical
University library has subscriptions to many thousands of journals. All the commercial
publishers do in return is to distribute a digital (or hard copy) version of the journal to
the universities globally. Likewise, academic authors are effectively married to these
top academic journals because only publications in these top-tier journals are
considered when universities decide whether an academic deserves an academic
promotion or not. As described, academic authors often don’t have the ownership
3
rights to their own publications and typically have to pay for accessing their own
publications (although this cost is typically born by the university libraries).
Task 1
Fired up by your sense of injustice you have decided to re-assess the situation
described in the above by making use of Mol & Wijnberg (2005). In doing so, make an
analysis of the value system of academic publishing. At each of the stages of the
value system identify and describe the processes of value creation, value protection,
and value appropriation. Then determine at what stage(s) of the value system ‘value-
chain envy’ exists, and explain what the ramifications are for the other stages. Then
discuss whether this sad state of affairs can be easily remedied or not and if so how.
Describe the advantages and the disadvantages of your proposal.
References
http://theconversation.com/academics-line-up-to-boycott-worlds-biggest-journal-
publisher-5384

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