Journal Editor Resists University “Vetting” of Content


A Northwestern University professor who edits a bioethics magazine has shelved the publication over a dispute with administrators, who demand that public relations staff approve content. Katie Watson, a professor in the university’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics program who edits the journal Atrium, said the demand followed recent controversy over the school’s censorship of an essay called “Head Nurses,” recounting sexual experiences with nurses. Watson said medical school administrators told her she must allow a “vetting committee” to review her editorial choices “and veto them if they were perceived to conflict with other institutional interests.”

“Approximately a week after this vetting committee told me what I would, and would not, be allowed to publish, I canceled the issue,” Watson told HuffPost, explaining she is “not moving forward with the publication under that condition.”

The standoff follows Northwestern’s censorship of last year’s Atrium issue containing an article written by Syracuse University professor William Peace about oral sex performed by nurses on hospital patients in the 1970s. Northwestern, a private university in Evanston, Illinois, removed the article from its website, but backed off when a faculty member threatened to expose the censorship.

The foregoing is from an article at Huffington Post, which also reports that Northwestern University cut Atrium’s budget.

Alice Dreger, a Northwestern medical professor who guest-edited the controversial Atrium issue, said if the administration “honestly believes” it’s normal to allow “administrators and PR folks tasked with making sure we don’t publish anything that might offend anyone ever again … then our administration seems to be made up of people who have never worked with scholarly journals.” She said the finds the administration monitoring of journal content “extremely disturbing.”

Have editors at other academic journals housed at universities experienced attempts by their administrations to control the content of their publications?

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