Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Resistance or distortion?

Gloria Monday, A campus corner that is for ever medieval, Times Higher Education Supplement, June 19, 2008.  (Thanks to Colin Steele.)  Excerpt:

...I’ve sat in enough rooms where people’s PowerPoint presentations have failed to materialise to develop a healthy scepticism about claims of technological enhancement - especially in a place like ours, where the entire IT system collapses every six months or so. Big D, our vice-chancellor, has been getting hot under the collar about this, and we’ve seen at least four IT directors come and go in an unnervingly short time....

What makes this particularly irritating is that we are also getting daily e-mails (well, when the system is actually functioning) urging us to comply with Big D’s grand idea for us all to put everything we have ever written up on the web. One of his henchmen came to talk to our department to convince us that this would be another great leap forward. I asked about copyright and was told that it was irrelevant. “Look,” I said, “I may earn only a few pounds a year in royalties, but I don’t see why I should be deprived of that as well as having to pay additional parking charges.” ...

Comments.  Monday has chosen her slant --for example, the VC's rep was a "henchman".   But there's a lot wrong with her story even taking it at face value. 

  • No university in the world has proposed an OA policy to disseminate "everything [faculty] have ever written".  It's far more likely that Monday misunderstood, or exaggerates, than that her institution was the first.
  • No university with an OA policy believes that copyright is irrelevant.  It's far more likely Monday misunderstood, or exaggerates, than that her institution was the first.
  • No university mandates OA for royalty-producing work.  It's far more likely Monday misunderstood, or exaggerates, than that her institution was the first.

Gabriel Egan has posted a good response to the THES comment section for Monday's article:

The "grand idea" of putting academics' publications on the web did not originate with "Big D" and although Gloria Monday's resistance is understandable, some reflection ought to overcome it. Currently, academics give their research results (books and articles) to commercial publishers virtually for free (as Monday says, the royalties are tiny) and the publishers then sell these results back to the university in the form of expensive books and journal subscriptions.

The state thus pays for research twice: once by employing academics to discover things and a second time by buying the knowledge back from a third party (the publishers) to whom the academics gave it. This arrangement made some kind of sense when the dissemination of knowledge required extensive capital investment in printing presses, warehouses, and distribution chains. It's much harder to make the case now for allowing academics to sell their research outcomes to private publishing houses and compelling the university to buy it back again. Those academics who fear putting their own stuff on their university's Institutional Repository might want to take a look at what is already been given away on the Institutional Repositories of other universities. Having done that, they might well discover that even taking into account only the narrowest of self interests--namely their own access to the high quality research they want to read--they have more to gain than lose by this development.