As someone currently involved in a couple of editing projects and at the mercy of referees and reviewers, I’m thinking a lot about deadlines and the failure on the part of academics to meet the deadlines they willingly agree to. In a recent post, Harman explained his aversion to contributing to anthologies by citing several practical reasons. Among them is that they ‘move at the speed of the slowest contributor….” This is absolutely true and in a real respect unfair to the other contributors involved. In principle, the ‘slowest’ contributor should be the one who submits their piece at the zero hour. Instead, the slowest contributor is more likely to be someone who fails to meet the deadline, often by weeks or even months.
From my experience, the deadlines set for academic writing typically are framed in terms of a window. Say, 4-6 weeks, 3-4 months, etc. This builds leeway into the deadline and tries to honor the fact that writing is not an exact science and writers have their own methods for getting things done. Given 4-6 weeks, some will only hear ’6 weeks’ and make that their deadline. Others will pretend like the deadline is 4 weeks, probably for the sake of their own time management idiosyncrasy. Of course, it is not just writers who must meet deadlines. There are also reviewers–of books, journal articles, dissertation drafts…
It is not atypical for academics to miss, severely, their deadlines. A week or two seems reasonable if there is no good reason forthcoming. But more than a couple weeks seems to be clear evidence of willful neglect. In the case of anthologies, this does an injustice to the other contributors who get their pieces in on time. It not only slows down the project, but it may very well affect the job, tenure, or promotion prospects of one of the other contributors. One might object that in cases of radical tardiness, the editor should decide to cut loose the delinquent contributor. But losses like this can sometimes jeopardize the integrity of the project, either at the level of its content or its prospects for publication or success. Moreover, this overlooks the fact that what seems to be the case is that an ethical defect has been normalized in academe. Missed deadlines are to be expected, forgiven, or forgotten. What else can we do, threaten the negligent?
I’m not suggesting that delinquent contributors and referees should be punished or shamed, because these folks are often working to provide a service (refereeing) or writing a piece that has been solicited by someone else, which is occasionally analogous to a service. What I’d like to suggest is that the norm should be to only accept deadlines that are likely to be met. Barring unforeseen circumstances (many of which will not prevent a person from meeting the deadline window), most of us know whether or not we are good at meeting deadlines. Why should it be okay to neglect them when there are many persons involved who may be negatively affected by such negligence?
Something tells me that there’s an unwritten rule about exposing this kind of thing, and that I’m dragging it out into the light at my personal peril. Please set me straight if so, or provide a defense of the willful neglect of deadlines.