Main entrance to the new library. An elevator for disabled students exists.
We go to bed at night saying, “Well, we did some work today!” Now if we could only get some exercise….
So this post will be about the library, research, and the faculty research program. I have a lot of photos of the library, which I hope will speak for themselves. But the research program? The current state of our role in their research can be summarized by saying that when two complex culturally-rich systems smash into each other, little fragments fly all over the place.
For the protection of the new floors in this hot, wet, climate, people exchange their shoes for slippers down a spiral staircase at the entrance of the library. Joe is a 47; the biggest slippers are 43, which is OK for me.
A call for proposals
I saw a call for proposals on the Vietnam Studies Group list promoting a conference to be held in HCMC in December-January 2017-18 that was linked to the Journal of Vietnamese Studies. The call came from a Liam Kelley at the University of Hawaii. This was a second or third time around call, so it had a short deadline, Thursday August 31. This was Monday August 27, so that’s 3 days. I wrote him a quick email and he replied that they could be flexible but that it would be a good idea to send in something, which is the answer I hoped for.
The Journal Club at TDT
That same afternoon there was a Journal Club meeting scheduled from 2-4. This meeting was going to be in a “presentation room,” in the new library, equipped with a flat screen and set off from the main floor by glass doors and a code.
The reason the Journal Club has been created is because it is the intent of TDT to become known as a research university. This is in addition to its goal of having all the lecturers learn English, plus teach in English and using the TOP 100 curriculum, which I have described. The astonishing thing is that this seemingly impossible goal seems to be happening. For example – just a note – Mr. Triet came walking down the road on the way to the Journal Club and he greeted us in English with a truly credible, rather Oakland-ish accent. He has been studying in a class called “Little UK,” where one teacher is a Scandinavian named Anders, from Denmark, who teaches English using African dance. But Mr Triet probably has a particular gift in this way. If you don’t remember, he is not only the Labor Protection (health and safety) instructor but he performs internationally (in Germany, Eastern Europe) as a clown and magician. We have seen several of his performances and he is truly great.
So the Labor Relations and Trade Unions Faculty wants to get organized and do some research and Dean Hoa called the meeting of this LRTU Journal Club to do this. Joe and I decided to propose that we respond to this call for proposals at this meeting.
However, there is the looming issue of where or work should get published.
Lots of high-graphic English signage
The approved lists of places to publish
We have already been made familiar with the TDT official policy, promulgated by DEMASTED, or the Department of Management, Science and Technology, of “counting” only papers published in journals that are listed on a certain database. First, I understood the approved list to be SCOPUS. I got an Excel sheet showing all the journals on SCOPUS (I forget how I got it). I went through it and did not see Labor Studies Journal or WorkingUSA (now called the Journal of Labor and Society) on it. I emailed the editors of both and asked if their journals were on the SCOPUS list. At first they didn’t know what I was talking about but then they both said yes. Since both Joe and I have published in those journals, we would know how to shape an article for submission. We are also both on the editorial board of JLS. I mentioned this to Ms. Vinh and we did apparently get permission to submit LRTU research to those journals.
But there are other lists, and we also hear that it isn’t SCOPUS, it’s ISI. I have accounts at and passwords for Taylor and Francis, which maybe the same as Scholar1, Wiley, E-Journals at McGill and I seem to remember Emerald.. So what about Sage, the publisher of Labor Studies Journal? I began asking, “What are these lists? Are they in some way an indicator of quality of research? Or are they just a database of all the journals published by a certain publisher?”
Open stacks, reading room — similar to other floors.
I begin to look into the various lists
Publishing journals is a huge business, one business among many that sees education as a vast, well-organized, rich market, comparable to healthcare. In fact, education can be viewed as a “desperation” market like healthcare in the sense that academics have to publish in order to get promoted or keep their jobs (see the tenure system in the US). The vitality of this market is demonstrated on the one side by the huge loans that people in the US are willing to take out in order to pay tuition, often at second-rate for-profit colleges and universities. It can be seen in the cost of textbooks ($100 or more) and the frequency of new editions (so you have to replace the old one). In micro, you can see it in the moment when I observed, in the mail room at the University of Illinois, a senior professor joking with pride about being asked to pay $800 “fee” in order to submit a paper! There are innumerable ways to milk money out of the free work of researchers, editors and peers who produce these articles. The prices charged to libraries to subscribe to certain journals is so high that some journals are being dropped.
This makes academic research seem like a hustle. But an undistorted (is there such a thing?) research culture, which supports collaborative exploration of matters that are of shared interest to an intellectual community, followed by sharing the results and debating and evaluating them among one’s colleagues (peers) is the product of centuries of trial and testing, and I actually do believe that it can be counted on to produce an understanding of the real world. Thus the true value of good research exceeds anything money can buy. Yes, it has been infested with rent-seeking, but that only distorts it; it does not invalidate it.
If I am a bit hot under the collar on this topic, it’s because of the anti-intellectual wave sweeping the US under Trump, along with his appointment of Perry, a climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, where he is dismantling an already weakened regulatory agency. (We worked with the union of scientists at the Chicago EPA and heard horror stories about recommendations ignored or disputed by Bush administration – appointed managers.) The news is full of this while Hurricane Harvey dumps three to five feet of rain on the oil refineries in the harbor of Houston, Texas. I also saw that the requirement that employers keep records of worker injuries for 5 years has just been eliminated, to “ease the burden of regulation on employers.” This is like running a bulldozer over a crime scene. (We’ve been watching a lot of police procedurals on Netflix.) It is like looting the museum in Baghdad or destroying Palmyra.
View from presentation room window; that’s Building E across the terrace
I am writing this in the midst of Joe’s class on leadership. The students have just made a presentation and it was really good. I have to say, I am surprised at how good it was. In their written report (in English) there is a section titled “Analysis” which actually does analyze the commonalities among 10 different interviews. This is followed by two exemplary stories. Also, there are a lot of challenging questions from the floor, which appear to be answered by various members of the team, not just one person. Two years ago when I taught a previous version of that class, their reports were full of data and graphics and totally lacked analysis. They were also shy about discussion after the presentation. Something has happened! This is the early face of research.
Back to the research question – leading up to the meeting of the Journal Club.
I have passwords and accounts at the following websites where journals get peer-reviewed: Francis and Taylor, Wiley, Scholar1, Emerald, and E-Journals McGill. I put all these into a search and found out, more or less, that Wiley owns Sage, that Thomsonreuters owns Elsevier and Emerald, that Francis and Taylor, which includes the Routledge list, merged with Informa in 2004 and consolidated their lists of publications. The ISI list was originally produced by someone named Eugene Garfield at the Institute for Scientific Information, which became Thomasonreuters and is now “Web of Science” which hosts Clarivate Analytics that tells you the impact rating of your research, based on the number of citations that your article gets. Merge, buy and sell, trade journals as commodities.
There are also Scopus and a set of sites called SCI (Imago), SCIE, SSCI and ISI. There is a website to go to if you want to know whether a certain journal is found on one of those lists
Philippe Fournier Viger, if he is a person, is located at Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzen, which is probably another university that prizes publications in high-ranking English language journals. Also on that website is an ad trying to get people to submit their articles for a data mining activity. For free!
And then here is a blog that makes it look as if I can submit actual questions to people who know about this stuff:
Going out the front door down the temple steps
So, what to do at TDT?
My position, of course, is that the main task for these researchers at TDT is to find a way to enter the discourse – join the discussion, have their voices heard among people who care about workers’ issues around the world. This includes not only academics but also – here’s an example of a place where Vietnamese workers were definitely not part of the discussion – for example, the AFL CIO, when it took its firm stance against TPP.
So now we move back to the Journal Club meeting. Present were the two young women who earned MAs in Taiwan, who are both graduates of TDT themselves, Ms. Vang and Ms Truc, Miss La, Dean Hoa, Mr Triet, Vinh, Joe and me.
Joe and I had a powerpoint. First, we talked about working collaboratively. Then we talked about our first overall proposed project: What are the changes that have taken place in worker education over the last 80 years? Ms. La said that 50 years was more appropriate. She’s right. We discussed collecting numbers (who received worker education, how many, where, etc) and interviewing teachers and workers. We talked about the difference between training (job skills for productivity) and education and the difference between classes for union leaders, union members (who are partly workers and part-time on union staff) and workers. The latter is mostly about the law and how to make sure that the law is being followed.
This was all followed with head nods and smiles but no one seemed excited. It seemed like work.
Then we went on to the Vietnamese Studies Journal proposal, and talked about writing about the workers’ experience in the tourism industry, especially hotels and restaurants (Miss La’s suggestion), maybe picking one major hotel chain that would be accessible in HCMC. Dean Hoa volunteered to work on numbers and demographics; Mr. Triet could work on health and safety issues; others said they could interview workers. Someone volunteered to do a scan of existing materials in Vietnamese about this topic. Of course, Joe and I had in mind the work of Pamela Vossenas at UNITE HERE regarding muscular- skeletal injuries of housekeepers, and the efforts to get CALOSHA to adopt a standard.
More enthusiasm was generated by the conference vetting process. The organizers are going to divide papers, after the March 31 2018 deadline, into “A” papers and “B” papers. “A” papers are those suitable for going out to peer review as is; the “B” papers would be invited to come to a workshop in the summer of 2018 to learn how to make papers more peer-reviewable. We communicated this information to the Club and it was received with curious interest. I would actually hope that the papers from the TDU Journal Club would be “B” papers and get the benefit of this mentoring.
After the meeting, however, Truc (one of the young faculty) came back to our office and asked us to come to Dean Hoa’s office right away, because he had looked up the Journal of Vietnamese Studies and found that it was not on the ISI list. Both Joe and I went over there. Let me summarize by saying that I got quite hot under the collar and made some arguments. His question was, is it worth it for the whole faculty to do all this work if it was going to be submitted to a journal that was not on the approved list? Isn’t that a waste of time? I said, among other things, that for the administration to fail to approve this project on that basis was to put an obstacle in the way of young faculty who were trying to enter the global conversation about the conditions of workers and the role of unions, etc etc.
At the end of my heated presentation, he agreed with me. But there are still steps to be taken.
Two sides to the broad question
For future discussion of this highly charged and important matter, it is critical to keep the broad question of what the lists actually represent (a publisher’s bundled inventory? a sign of quality?) separate from the short-term question of the value of submitting something to this particular conference.
Challenging and discrediting the authority of these lists does not leave one with a practical alternative. After all, there has to be a way for a university that has not been accumulating endowments for 400 years (like Harvard) to enter the global education game (sorry…there are aspects of it that are a game). Also, it’s going to happen, so there has to be a way for it to happen, even if we break a few eggs in the process.
So there has to be some way to give guidance to young researchers, or new researchers, so that they don’t waste time writing for pop-up journals or trying to go to conferences that are really just a perk for people on a big grant. There has to be some quality control. If you don’t read English, and if every time you go to the library to look up an article, they have to create a budget for you to access each journal, what are you going to do? Wouldn’t it be great if you could trust these lists?
Submitting a proposal to this conference is an act that expresses the position that the measure of quality is created in an ongoing way through participation in the discourse, over the course of many years. What is desirable is meeting people, listening to new authorities (and old ones), venturing new ideas, picking up hints in the course of informal discussion, collecting business cards, remembering faces, getting on discussion email lists or into research groups, developing the shared vocabulary (register, discourse, at whatever level) of the discipline, learning the edges and norms of the discipline.
This is the long term, for sure. And the long term is hard to incentivize. From the administration’s point of view, how would you incentivize this? Right now, they are saying that if you publish an article in the approved journals, then the next semester you will get a reduced workload as a reward and can sign up to keep researching, in the hopes that you will publish another article. But lecturers are teaching 4 classes per semester; they are busy. What would incentivize them to carve research time out of their schedules in order to do this? Is it even possible?
To be continued.