Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, May 12, 2008

More controversy over OA for creative writing ETDs

Andrea Foster, Readers Not Wanted: Student Writers Fight to Keep Their Work Off the Web, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 16, 2008 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

...For now, creative-writing students [at West Virginia University] can submit their theses on paper. But starting next fall, the coordinator of the campuswide electronic-thesis program wants to require those students, like others at West Virginia, to submit their writing projects electronically and make them publicly available after five years.

That policy could hurt students, says [Mark Brazaitis], an associate professor of English, because publishers will not accept poems, short stories, or novels that are already freely available for everyone to read online.

"Goodness knows," he says, "it's hard enough to get published without this sort of handicap."

Tension about how theses should be disseminated is brewing on other campuses, too. Open-access advocates, often scientists and librarians, are pressing for the scholarly works to be made publicly available online. Professors of writing and their students, however, argue that literary projects are fundamentally different from laboratory experiments....

John H. Hagen, the electronic-thesis coordinator, who is also a library administrator, insists that online distribution enhances students' publishing prospects rather than thwarts them. Publishers are spreading spurious claims about electronic dissemination of theses, he says, to preserve their "dying market." And he argues that once professors are educated about the issue, they will come around to his side.

"All theses and dissertations should become open access," says Mr. Hagen. "It's important in terms of being able to trace the cultural and historical aspects of academia."

Mr. Hagen, who is on the board of the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, a nonprofit group that advocates electronic dissemination of theses, has data to back up his argument. He surveyed 34 West Virginia alumni who earned master-of-fine-arts degrees in creative writing, and he found that students who had allowed open access to their theses went on to have more-successful careers, in terms of material published and further education, than those who didn't.

Professors of writing are skeptical. Publishers still operate by the rule of turning down manuscripts that are already freely available, says Mr. Brazaitis....Limiting access to theses for five years, as Mr. Hagen proposes, isn't good enough, Mr. Brazaitis says....

He has support from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, an advocacy group, which adopted guidelines in October 2006 advising colleges not to force students to broadly disseminate their theses....

The writing group's statement helped persuade some institutions, Bowling Green State and Louisiana State University among them, to exclude creative-writing theses from open-access policies....

But some institutions are not ceding ground to students and their professors.  [Jeanne M. Leiby, an associate professor of English at Louisiana State University] previously taught at the University of Central Florida, where she and other writing professors lost the battle to restrict access to theses. She says that many faculty members supported limiting access, but some administrators did not.

Patricia J. Bishop, vice provost and dean of the University of Central Florida, says it has an obligation, as a taxpayer-supported institution, to make theses publicly available. "If we don't disseminate the work eventually," she says, "I think we would not be serving the public." ...Ms. Bishop says students haven't objected to the policy....

PS:  For background, see our March 2008 post on the similar controversy at the University of Iowa.