Ukraine is demanding that journal publishers and university rankings agencies stop working with Russia at all levels. In a recent Guardian article, ‘Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for Russian colleagues’.
We, as directors, have been asked what Intellect’s policy is on this issue and it’s clear that we really should have one. It’s also clear that few academic publishers are chomping at the bit to join the international sanctions being imposed on Russia and its people, with most (apart from costless expressions of solidarity) staying extremely quiet and coy.
There is no doubt that we are in unprecedented times. We have not seen the invasion of another European country with such brutality and loss of life since the Second World War, not to mention the very real threat of nuclear war. And it’s clear that if Putin’s invasion of Ukraine succeeds, it will only embolden him to invade other countries in his bid to re-establish the Russian Empire.
In response, western governments and commercial businesses have imposed far-reaching sanctions such as excluding Russia from the international banking system, stopping VISA and credit card transactions, withdrawing businesses and stopping supplies. Russian sporting organizations have been banned from participating in international events, and actors, singers, opera, ballet and other Russian cultural organizations and individuals have also been banned from performing – all with the aim of stopping Putin and his maniacal plans.
This pretty much only leaves academia and academic publishing yet to take a stance. Some have, however. Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia have stopped all collaboration with Russia on education and research, and many universities across the globe have also cut their ties with Russia. Furthermore, according to a Times Higher Education (THE) article ‘More than 8,000 scientists and educators – among them three Nobel prizewinners and many internationally respected scientists – have signed a letter backing further action’.
There is no doubt that very many Russian academics detest Putin and his political system, with more and more leaving the country to find work elsewhere. But many academics in the West, and some academic publishers, argue that to impose sanctions on them would be unfair as it would punish the innocent. There are two problems with this argument. First, how do you distinguish the innocent from the guilty? From the same THE article above: ‘Last month, the Russian Union of Rectors, which represents more than 700 university rectors and presidents, and the Russian Academy of Sciences Presidium joined individual academics, including those from Saint Petersburg State University, and students of Moscow State Institute of International Relations, in backing the war’. The second problem is even more important: what is so exceptional about academics that they should be treated so differently from the rest of the population? What gives them a free pass when it comes to sanctions? There must be hundreds and thousands of ordinary Russians who do not support the war or Putin but are suffering untold hardships as a result of the sanctions. Many have lost their jobs, many are going hungry, some are even dying fighting a war they want no part of. Surely these are innocent, too, so why do they not get a pass? These are questions that must be answered conclusively and without ambiguity if academia and academic publishing is to get a free pass.
It's too easy and convenient for academic publishers to argue that we need to maintain international cooperation, that we need to honour the openness and exchange of education and research while all the time collecting subscription fees and APCs, massive ones in the case of the biggest academic publishers.
For Intellect’s part, we have cancelled our gas contract with Gazprom as have a great many other Gazprom customers. We receive few proposals from academics employed by Russian universities, so any policy we adopt will have minimal impact unless it is part of a larger, wider movement, but that’s no excuse for not having one. I took an active role in pushing for sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid years. The same arguments were used then as now that sanctions would be ineffective and would only hurt the innocent (not to mention business interests in SA). But sanctions were eventually and reluctantly imposed, and the apartheid system was finally abolished. We can only hope that Ukraine’s bravery and determination supported by the sanctions in the West will finally put an end to this current global catastrophe.
We should also not forget that it was the African National Congress (ANC) that called for sanctions, knowing full well it would hurt their own people as well as White South Africa, and I would like to think that many Russian academics take the same view on isolating Russian academic institutions, even if they are too frightened to voice such an opinion. It would certainly do much to boost the reputation of the Russian academic community if it stood with their less fortunate innocents in Russia.
We have come to the conclusion that we should not publish the work of academics working for Russian institutions (innocent or otherwise) until Russia capitulates and returns to an internationally agreed state of peace where Ukraine and its neighbours are concerned. This policy has been conveyed to Intellect editors, which we hope they will support, no matter how reluctantly. There is a possibility we will receive kick back from some editors, but they will need to explain why they should be treated differently to others hit by sanctions against Russia. We should make it clear that this policy is not intended to ‘punish’ innocent Russian academics, it is aimed at the institutions they work for. For this reason, we will also not accept journal subscriptions from Russian institutions until further notice, and any journal subscriptions we have already received for this academic year will be cancelled.
I and my fellow directors are very happy to discuss this situation with you if you have concerns.
Mark, May and Holly - directors of Intellect Ltd