• Academic Journals: Faculty Editors Find the Personal Growth Worth the Challenge

    Academic Journals

    Opportunities often arise in unexpected ways. Philosophy professor David Clemenson was reminded of this while spending summer 2008 in Prague on a research grant. He received an email message from Philosophy Department chair Sandra Menssen asking if he would consider editing the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. The journal was looking for a new editorial home after 20 years at the University of Dallas.

    “For some reason or another, [Menssen] thought I would make a good editor,” Clemenson said with a chuckle. After some consideration, he said yes. The department applied for the opportunity, and by October 2008 the journal was under Clemenson’s guidance. While considering the editorship, Clemenson said he reflected on one of the key responsibilities of any professor: service. “Every faculty member is expected to not only do research and teaching, but also service. That can take a variety of forms. I thought this was one of the best fits for me. I’ve always been research oriented, and [editing] involves something very close to research.”

    A commitment to service and scholarly endeavors is deeply rooted in the College of Arts and Sciences, which encourages faculty to enrich the community through “discovery, artistic activity, integration and pedagogy.” This mission gives Clemenson and other faculty members the encouragement to put in extra hours every week editing academic journals that become dear to them.

    Clemenson is one of several College of Arts and Sciences professors who were nudged toward or sought positions as editors or publishers of scholarly journals. (See a list of journals on Page 17.) Philosophy professors W. Matthews Grant, Christopher Toner, Gloria Frost, Timothy Pawl, Mark Spencer and Joshua Stuchlik are part of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly’s faculty editing team, which is supported by department staff member Ann Hale, who is the quarterly’s managing editor. Sociology and Criminal Justice professor Lisa Waldner co-edits Sociological Quarterly, while Art History professor Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell publishes Pacific Arts Journal, and English professor Alexis Easley edits Victorian Periodicals Review.

    Increasing Expertise and Personal Growth

    For Easley, the most exciting part of her editing work is the development of a deeper understanding of her subject. Easley is a scholar of Victorian journalism. When she began editing Victorian Periodicals Review in spring 2012 she did not expect to develop a new and strong connection to her research.

    “It’s giving me insight into [Victorian] editors,” Easley said. “It’s giving me solidarity with these individuals.”

    Easley has been a member of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals since 1998. She credits the society for mentoring her throughout graduate school. The society was founded in 1968 by scholars who were interested in Victorian journalism and studied the magazines, newspapers and journals of “every stripe” from about the 1780s until World War I, she said.

    “It’s an international group of scholars. It’s pretty amazing and wonderful that we (St. Thomas) have this journal,” Easley said. “It’s quite a plum.”

    Most of Easley’s work is concerned with editing the submissions, much as the philosophy faculty editing team members have their hands full with the editing and extensive review process behind the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.

    The quarterly was founded in 1920 under the title New Scholasticism as a response to a call from Pope Leo XIII for a renewal of Catholic philosophy and theology. While the journal’s name has changed since then, its spirit of bringing reason and faith together in the area of philosophy has remained.

    This mission is constantly on the editors’ minds as they process submissions to the journal. As do all academic journal editors, the St. Thomas editors seek experts in the subfields of their disciplines to act as referees who determine if each submission is worthy of publication. But before that process can begin, Clemenson and Toner dig through the submissions and determine each one’s level of appropriateness for the journal.

    “Part of the beauty of philosophy as a discipline, because you’re dealing with fundamental questions, is that you can’t afford to limit yourself to a narrow specialization,” Clemenson said. The greatest benefit of editing the journal, he said, is the countless chances he is given to enrich his intellectual life by reading submissions and interacting with authors and referees.

    “It’s important not to put the blinders on, but to keep perspective,” Clemenson said. He sees this branching out to learn about subfields in philosophy as a wonderful scholarly opportunity.

    When Waldner was seeking new scholarly opportunities, she never dreamed of applying to a journal as prominent as Sociological Quarterly. That is, until her doctoral adviser and mentor, professor Betty Dobratz of Iowa State University, asked her to apply jointly to the Midwest Sociological Society’s call for a new editor in 2011.

    After a rigorous application process, the pair was chosen. They began editing the journal in March 2012.

    “Sociology is so broad, and there are some things that I know more about or that she knows more about,” Waldner said. “We thought a team made sense.” The pair’s broad knowledge base is very important for a journal such as Sociological Quarterly, which focuses on “a whole gamut” of things that sociologists study, including family, crime, politics and gender topics, Waldner said.

    Waldner and her co-editor face the challenge of working together across a physical distance. Video chatting plays a big role in the editorial process, with weekly Skype appointments to discuss papers submitted to the quarterly that deserve a second look. Editing is a challenging and time-consuming process after which only about 10 percent of submitted articles are published. But to Waldner, the outcome and personal growth attached to the process make it well worth the challenge.

    Waldner said the most exciting part of the editing process is when a paper goes out for review. A referee is generally at the top of his or her field and an expert on the submitted paper’s topic. “I really enjoy that it has given me an excuse to contact fairly prominent sociologists and say I’m the editor of The Sociological Quarterly,” Waldner said. “It’s providing [me] an opportunity to learn.”

    It gives her the opportunity to read about almost every subfield of sociology and to identify additional topics she and Dobratz believe will be of interest to readers. Waldner said they identified Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 elections as special section topics for upcoming issues, and they regard the special topics as the perfect way to increase readership while keeping the journal, and themselves, current in sociology.

    Mentoring the Next Generation

    Professors are not alone in receiving new opportunities with the presence of scholarly journals on campus. Students benefit, too. They gain from the increased knowledge shared by professors in their classes.

    Clemenson said he brings new articles from American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly into the classroom and finds his expanded knowledge of the field a benefit when it comes time for his students to write papers, because he can direct them to the best scholarship in the field.

    “Being an editor of this journal broadens my perspectives, and keeps me from being narrowly focused on my own set of interests,” Clemenson said.

    Waldner noted that expanding her knowledge outside her specialty in sociology helps her in the classroom. She believes working with the journal increases her critical-thinking skills, which she can then pass on to her students. “Folks that are involved in creating knowledge are the best to impart knowledge,” Waldner said.

    The more insight the professor has, the more easily students are able to access information. Easley sees editing as a natural extension of her research and teaching. “The big picture is to bring the richness of Victorian culture to the next generation,” she said.

    Some of the journals, including Victorian Periodicals Review, also provide tangible opportunities for students. English graduate student Rachel MacDonald is the first of an expected long line of students to receive an editorial assistantship with Easley.

    “The experience [has] confirmed my belief in the revision process as the place where good writing becomes great writing,” MacDonald said. She was surprised at how much work goes into each issue, she said. The editing is extensive, but much of the work has “nothing to do with editing, but marketing, branding and business.”

    The position allows MacDonald to be integrated in every part of this editorial process.

    Pacific Arts Journal also provides a graduate student position, which is currently filled by Rachel Simmons. The journal is published and produced by members of the Art History Department under the leadership of department chair Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell. Simmons hopes to make her career working with Pacific art in some way, and Stansbury-O’Donnell believes work on the journal is an excellent opportunity for her to network in the art community.

    The journal publishes articles on the art of Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines and the Pacific islands. This focus may seem very far away from Summit Avenue, but with the recent establishment of the American Museum of Asmat Art on campus, the Art History Department is showing itself as an impressive resource for Pacific art.

    “She’s been brilliant,” Stansbury-O’Donnell said of Simmons. “Not everybody wants to or can teach in a classroom or curate in a museum. A publication is another place. Copy editing is not specifically an art history skill, but you could get a job editing art history journals.”

    As a strong advocate for mentorship of students and recent graduates, Waldner seeks to pull her former students into Sociological Quarterly.

    “I reach out to my [former] students and provide them with opportunities,” Waldner said. The newest member of the journal’s editorial board is 2004 St. Thomas graduate Valerie Clark. Clark is a research scientist for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. “It gets her professionally engaged, and it’s something she can put on her résumé,” Waldner said. “I look forward to inviting more [students] in the future to give them experience.”

    Providing Visibility

    Each of the scholarly journals edited or published in the College of Arts and Sciences provides new information and exciting opportunities to the faculty who work on them. Editing a journal also brings recognition among other scholars. Clemenson describes the responsibility of housing a scholarly journal at St. Thomas as a true “vote of confidence” by a scholarly discipline.

    “Our institution was entrusted with this responsibility,” Clemenson said. “That speaks well of our department.”

    Read more from CAS Spotlight.

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