CANADA

Publish and perish

BARRY CAME June 20 1994
CANADA

Publish and perish

BARRY CAME June 20 1994

Publish and perish

A report at Concordia slams the pressures to produce

In the academic world, publish or perish has long been the operative principle. It is an often rigorous code, where success— and job security—is measured by the sustained production of learned articles for the scholarly press. The rewards can be rich, both in academic distinction and, more tangibly, in access to scarce research funding and lucrative consulting contracts with government and industry. But the system is also fraught with peril, for it has the potential to breed fraud and corruption at Canadian universities. And it can even contribute to tragedy of the kind that fell upon Montreal’s Concordia University in August, 1992, when Valery Fabrikant shot and killed four of his colleagues in the university’s engineering faculty.

Those, at least, were the findings of a threemember panel of academics who investigated the Fabrikant affair. The committee, chaired by former York University president Harry Arthurs, was set up by Concordia to investigate academic integrity at Concordia—including Fabrikant’s claim that three of his superiors at Concordia’s faculty of engineering had stolen his research and blocked his attempts to win tenure. In their report, released last week, Arthurs and his colleagues reluctantly concluded that many of Fabrikant’s allegations were true. They found three professors—Seshadri Sankar, his brother Thiagas Sankar and former dean M.N.S. Swamy—guilty of “conflicts of interest, other contractual irregularities, excessive outside professional work and misappropriation of authorial credit.” But the Arthurs panel laid much of the blame for what happened on pressures flowing from a “production-driven research culture, a political economy in which authorship functions as a kind of currency.” And it clearly stated that the problem extends far beyond the troubled Montreal university. “The issue of productiondriven research,” the panelists wrote, “is a challenge not just for Concordia, but for the entire Canadian research community.”

Other academics agreed that Concordia’s problems mirror similar difficulties elsewhere. Not surprisingly, Concordia’s administration was among the first to endorse that notion. “We’re taking the rap because of what happened here,” said Reginald Groome, chairman of Concordia’s board of governors, Arthurs: an ‘inescapable pathology’

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