Long-time Science correspondent registers his ‘profound dismay’ at art, production dismissals.

Michael Balter, a long-time correspondent for Science magazine, announced today that he was taking a three-month leave of absence to protest the firing of four women in the art and production departments.

In an open letter to Science’s news editor, Tim Appenzeller, Balter wrote that it was “particularly painful and sad” for him to “register my profound dismay” over the dismissals.

“In what seems like one short year, we have gone from a culture appropriate to a nonprofit, membership organization like the AAAS, to the culture more typical of a Manhattan publisher or a Wall Street corporation—a culture in which even long-time, loyal employees are expendable and can be let go with essentially no notice,” Balter wrote.

Ginger Pinholster, a spokesperson for Science’s publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said she couldn’t comment on specific personnel matters, but “the way they [at AAAS] handle these changes to staff is always compassionate and humane…These departures seem to follow the exact protocol and pattern that they always have any time I’ve seen one at AAAS in 15 years.”

The departures were a necessary part of what AAAS calls its “transformation initiative, under way for a couple of years now, to move from print-centric to digital-first,” Pinholster said.

Balter wrote that the dismissals, during the week of Sept. 22, were handled with “brutality and insensitivity.” One colleague, for example, “was summarily fired and escorted out of the building; when she was allowed to return a few days later to clear out her desk, she was not permitted to talk to any of her former colleagues.” Another was offered a demotion, he wrote, and when she refused it was given one day to leave the building.

He raised questions about the handling of the other two dismissals as well.

Balter’s letter attracted attention on Twitter, where some participants wondered whether the staffers were let go for arguing against a recent Science cover that was widely criticized as objectifying the bodies of two transgender sex workers in Jakarta. Balter tweeted that he did not see “any clear evidence” that the firings were related to the cover.

For more, follow the Twitter discussion at Balter’s handle, @mbalter.

-Paul Raeburn

8 Replies to “Long-time Science correspondent registers his ‘profound dismay’ at art, production dismissals.”

  1. Lightfoot

    Unfortunately it appears that Science has lost it’s way. The IEEE Computer Society lost their way in 2000, and they have spent the last 15 years wandering.

    I am very sorry to hear this.

  2. terrymurray

    Unfortunately, that’s the way layoffs work – employee is frog-marched out of the building, left in the parking lot (maybe with a taxi chit), and asked to arrange a later time to return to clean out desk, ideally when survivors aren’t around. No chance to tie up loose ends with colleagues or contacts, no matter how long the employee’s tenure. If a layoff has to be described as “humane,” it almost certainly is not. Nothing “humane” about being laid off.

  3. Wolfgang

    I am not sure I agree with you. My own experience has been that different organizations seem to handle layoffs very differently. But perhaps that is changing.

    However they actually execute them, though, there does seem to be a fairly substantial online literature about how companies *should* handle layoffs — particularly in the realm of treating the employees whose positions are cut with respect, and in allaying the concerns of those who remain. There is even discussion of the need to “re-recruit” the remaining employees and give them some idea of the broader context for the changes and their own jobs, which would seem to be essential to avoiding the kind of siege mentality that the author of the blog post linked in the story describes.

    The blog post suggests that the organization involved hasn’t made much of an effort to explain the transition and create a positive vision for the employees that remain. That seems very shortsighted to me, and makes one wonder if the people in charge really completely understand why they’re doing these things themselves.

  4. terrymurray

    “Profoundly unintelligent”? You obviously have never been laid off. “Truth machine”? What a profoundly egomaniacal name.

  5. truth_machine

    “Unfortunately, that’s the way layoffs work”

    What a profoundly unintelligent remark. How layoffs “work” is a matter of *choice*, and AAAS chose to adopt the particularly brutal approach now used by many corporations, of frog-marching people out of the building in the dead of night and preventing any communication between them and remaining employees. Ms. Pinholster is simply not telling the truth when she says that they have been done that way for the last 15 years.

  6. Lightfoot

    Oh my…..Why 3/2/2000 was the day that things… changed. Ah yes, so many dropped initiatives for things like E-accounts, E-aliases, E-Identity, the Digital Library, Document Delivery, and of course the system that would allow people to network and connect with pictures, interests, and the ability to form and join TC’s and communities. Almost like a book of faces, it was. A book of faces with a common identity in 1999…..

    But that’s ok, remember what people really think when they think Digital Library is a special reader and hundreds of CD’s. So modern, so forward thinking.

    Oh yes, we remember. Funny how they don’t talk about the E-commerce system we had running for SuperComputing 95, the launch of Document Delivery, documents on demand…. Or any of those other things.

    Time moves on. People lose their way. But I remember. And I’ll never forget. We rocked the gates of heaven we did, and that’s something I will always be proud of.

    “If I had known it would be like this
    I’d have given it a second thought….

    But real life sure isn’t like school.
    There are some lessons that just can’t be taught……


  7. truth_machine

    In response the comment below: wrong, you stupid dishonest ass. I have been laid off and I was not given that treatment. Again, although Mr. Murray is too stupid to comprehend this, how layoffs “work” is a matter of *choice* — companies don’t *have to* do it that way.

    And better to be an egomaniac than an imbecile … but my moniker is not egomaniacal … it merely reflects that I take sticking to the truth *seriously*.

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