Reed Elsevier: Making Corporations Responsible

On Thursday, Reed Elsevier dropped its involvement with the American Legislative Council (ALEC), probably in response to the outcry against corporate support for ALEC as ALEC-designed laws have been showing up more and more often across the country. Joan McCarter on Daily Kos writes about the movement of corporate sponsors away from ALEC in light of unfavorable publicity concerning ‘Stand Your Ground’ and ‘Voter-ID’ laws that have had considerable ALEC backing. It’s impressive to see what a little pressure can do. (Go here for ‘ALEC Exposed.’)

At the same time, we college professors (at least) should be a more than a bit embarrassed. Reed Elsevier makes millions off of our work and, for the most part (and until recently), we have done nothing about it, have made no attempt to influence a corporation that is dependent upon us.

In the latest issue of Clarion, one of the Professional Staff Congress (my union) publications, Peter Hogness and Jake Blumgart outline what all of us in academia should already have known, that Reed Elsevier’s profits have been used “to promote denial of climate change and block action against global warming,” among other things. Had we been paying attention, rather than simply tending our own small gardens, we could have put a stop to this long ago.

This year has seen, of course, the start of a “Boycott Elsevier” movement that I support and have written about here and here and here, a boycott that was probably instrumental in getting Reed Elsevier to drop support for the regressive Research Works Act and that now has almost 10,000 academic signatories. But even we who support the boycott have been too narrow in our focus, looking only to Elsevier in relation to the publishing of our own scholarly work–when we should have been pushing the corporation in many more ways.

It’s well past time that academics start moving from the defensive mode we have taken on over the past few decades, something we dropped into in response to attacks by the likes of David Horowitz, who vilifies us all as unrepentant leftists. We have responsibilities to the world beyond the walls of our colleges and universities, but have been satisfied to focus our attention on internal problems, leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself.

Even the “Boycott Elsevier” movement, we are seeing now, is too narrowly focused. We who support it should have been looking beyond our own needs from the start, seeing the whole of the parent corporation and its relationships far beyond academic publishing. I hope that the Clarion article is a sign that we are waking to our responsibilities to a world sorely in need of educated voices, a world where prejudices of all sorts have been ruling for far too long.

If change is happening, we should be a part of it. The fact that Reed Elsevier felt pressured enough to drop ALEC without academia being part of that pressure should shame all of us on the faculties. It certainly shames me.

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