[Msa-discuss] query re M/m editorships, and thoughts re vote on editorial length of tenure

Miller, Cristanne ccmiller at buffalo.edu
Fri Feb 2 10:21:05 EST 2018

Like Jessica, I apologize if there was some earlier stream on this that I did not read and I hope not to be repeating what others may already have said.  I just wanted to say that from my own perspective as former MSA President and 10-year editor of the Emily Dickinson Journal, from 2005-2015 (less demanding than editing M/M'y but there's also a lot less support), 6 months to a year really did suffice to get up to speed. One might still have occasional questions for a previous or more senior editor, but one certainly understands all the basic procedures and can already be thinking about or pursuing special issues, invited contributors, and so on.

The time period for feeling settled in probably changes person to person, depending on other factors. And the MSA post on this subject is accurate in indicating that there is about a 6-month lead-in time when you're not yet editor but are doing a lot of shadowing and therefore essentially editorial work, as well as a few months on the other end when you're responding to the new editor's queries--although this may be modified by the fact of 2 editors with staggered terms. I believe the point is that a formal 5-year term in effect feels like a 6-year term. 

Because of the 2 editors, and because 5 years does seem to me the reasonable term to work toward particular goals as an editor and see them through to fruition, I am inclined not to see the necessity for changing the official term to 4 years. If those incoming and outgoing (especially outgoing) responsibilities are more onerous than I imagine, perhaps someone could make a stronger case for the 4-year term. Editing a journal is like chairing a department--it takes a lot of time, and it takes a while to settle in to the role, and then to help guide your successor. Both can be hugely rewarding. One needs to know what one is signing up for (5 years + extra time especially before your term begins) but this to me does not make the current term seem wrong--especially given what Jessica says about there always being exceptional possibilities for someone to bow out early. 

Warm greetings to all in the New Year and I second Jessica's thanks to ALL M/M'y editors (especially founding editors Bob von Hallberg and Lawrence Rainey, and to Cassandra Laity for her many years of work in the field helping to set up the current so-much-more reasonable structures than we had 10 and more years ago).


Cristanne Miller
SUNY Distinguished Professor
Edward H. Butler Professor of English Literature
Department of English
University at Buffalo SUNY
320 Clemens Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-4610
ccmiller at buffalo.edu 

-----Original Message-----
From: msa-discuss-bounces at muse.jhu.edu [mailto:msa-discuss-bounces at muse.jhu.edu] On Behalf Of Jessica Burstein
Sent: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 5:43 PM
To: msa-discuss at chaos.press.jhu.edu
Subject: [Msa-discuss] query re M/m editorships, and thoughts re vote on editorial length of tenure

This is in response to the vote on tenure of junior and senior editorial roles/ tenure of editorial time. I'm asking us all this, even as M/m editors will have things to say--if not time to say it.

I apologize for  1. a horribly long email and 2. not responding if there was a previous thread of conversation on this. I have zero at stake in this; I just truly care about the shape of editorial function and authors' experiences.

First, I'd like to clarify the vocabulary: what are the respective responsibilities of/distinctions (other who came in first) between "junior" vs. "senior" editorial roles? Too, if something is put to a vote at the journal, do editors have equal voting power; or is veto power accorded the senior editor; or is something else the case? Is some distinction being tacitly referred to beyond the training time? Is there a charter for the journal nowadays?

Second, I take it that the current allocation of time and position is currently : 2 years as junior/3 years as senior? and that what is being voted on  is the proposition of  2 years as junior/ 2 years as senior? ( I am capable of getting lots of things wrong, so please someone correct me if that is one of them--I'm confused by the language of the vote's rationale, and/or the underpinning reality.)

I think what follows is relevant even if what's at stake is simply the total editorial time of tenure. And bottom line: I don't think an editor gets up to speed in a year, however engaged, productive, and insomniac they happen to be. It will take 2 years.

Third, it is my sense that 2 years in a senior role is not enough time to have an impact on the shape of a journal: you come in (you're
"junior") and spend the first year  or so working hard but also mostly figuring out what goes where--a minimum of 1-2 years getting clear on process (which means both learning about the mechanics of office protocol alongside the immense task and honor of becoming an editor, as in actually working with authors) all the while picking up the transferred obligations of the office/editor that/who preceded you. This can be the hardest part for a vigilant editor. You're also (hopefully) learning from your fellow M/m editors, and it takes time to learn languages.  Even with amazing and vigilant outgoing editors and offices, transferring offices is arduous; and hitches between the transfer of MSS that are at any number of points along the editing pipeline are inevitable. (And hitches can be very very bad for authors.)

OK. Those two years (or whatever the length of time is) are done, and now you are "senior": you know what you're doing, what's where, and--at long last my point--* can start really doing some of things that made you apply for the position to begin with.* You're reading those essays that come in over the transom, and going to conferences, and listening to papers that knock you out, and soliciting authors of 20 minute conference papers or what you will, fielding special issues, trying to make special issues happen. Etc. Now--if a 4 year editorial tenure is voted in-- you have 2 years to get those things in and published, and then the office transfers to someone else. Some authors pony up right away. Most don't. Some--bless us each and every--are overly optimistic (and worth the wait). Then there are the readers you're bugging to pony up reports, and who may have disappeared or have had unforeseen things occur, and you as an editor know this is a great MS but it really needs more work, and well, THAT was the wrong reader for this MS--and and and. 
Oh yes: you're also in happy communication with the other offices, and offering (calming) advice to a junior/incoming editor who is quite possibly wondering whether they were insane to have said yes to what all this really means, and you're showing them how it gets easier once they are senior. Or they're telling you how great it is and you're wondering how to do it that other way. Or etc.

Two years as senior is really a short time for shepherding a roster of authors through to publication--and of course you have to let go, but I'm talking about having time to have a serious crop of authors/projects guided through and happy, before beginning the transition to your successor, and not just throwing a bunch of stuff/authors at them and walking away, leaving the new junior/incoming to sort out everything on their own and deal with authors who may feel neglected.

I would think 2 years in junior role and 3 years in senior--or forget the jr/sr: learning what you want to & can do and then doing it in the course of 5 rather than 4 years-- would benefit the journal's profile and an editor's abilities and chance to have an impact. And it's better for authors, I would hope--they're the ones that this is really about. 
Jumping between different editors is very difficult for an author. So my sense is 5 year tenure is better than 4.

If an editor wants out early, that of course could happen. It's a tough job and not everyone should be expected to take to it--and there can
(suddenly) be times when being an editor is not the thing one should be doing.

I natter on about this in 3 capacities: 1. someone who was managing editor of M/m back when the damn thing was born; I have seen and heard
(sic) a lot of things go wonky as well as well 2. someone who is pleased and honored to be on the advisory board now--and who periodically bothers our M/m editors with suggestions and requests and 3. someone who has spent aprobably too much time in other editorial offices. I love editing and editors and authors, not necessarily in that order. So I defer to other voices--I'm genuinely curious what MSA folk think--and applaud the past and current M/m editors --thank you, Debra Rae, Christopher, Kritish--who have done good works, and labored to make process more transparent, efficient, and enjoyable for all concerned. 
(You folks may be the ones who are all for this new time of tenure.) And thank you, managing editors: Caitlyn, John, and Matthew. You probably are the ones who should be casting the final votes on all this. But then, I'm biased.

Thanks again for your patience.

Best, Jessica Burstein

Jessica Burstein
Associate Professor
Department of English
Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies University of Washington
A101 Padelford Hall
Seattle, WA 98195-4330
        Director, London Study Abroad Program. Amy Feldman-Bawarshi, Academic Counselor for the London Program, is in the Advising Office: Padelford A-2E, within A-2B.
Burstein Winter 2018 Office hours: Padelford A502, Tues/Thurs 11-12 and by appt.

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