A recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education covers the 2008 meeting of the Association of Learned Societies meeting, held last week in Pittsburgh, PA. It’s interesting reading, given the tenor of our times.
Academic freedom is a major concern for international scholars, with governmental secrecy and harassment topping the list of concerns. The most patently absurd case involves a musicologist from Mills College in Oakland, CA. The secrecy within which these are concealed should disturb us all. Governments should be accountable for their actions.
In addition, scholars from the humanities discussed the possibility that they will be marginalized if they don’t reach constituents more effectively. As the chairman of the meeting stated, “As scholars and teachers, we have an obligation to show—not merely to claim, but to show—that the humanities are not merely the playground of nihilism.”
The debate on open access struck some notes that will sound familiar to publishers:
Lynne Withey, director of the University of California Press, stood up and pointed out that people rarely talk about what new means of disseminating information really cost. “I don’t have any problem in principle with the Robin Hood model of publishing,” she said, but she emphasized that “there is a whole set of costs to the university”—meaning technical support, professors’ and editors’ salaries, and so on—that people don’t factor in.
From academic administrators talking about the hidden costs of online publishing to speculation about what might happen when grant funding for open access initiatives dries up to concerns about the damage open access might do to learned societies overall, the discussion about open access seems, based on this report, to have matured a great deal.