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The faculty senate at the University of Maryland voted down a resolution supporting open access, reports The Diamondback Online, a student-run newspaper.

The resolution was defeated in a 37-24 decision after half an hour of debate, summarized as “gloom and doom.” One of the chief complaints of the resolution was its potential effect on academic freedom:  Faculty should decide where they publish their work.

The resolution was milquetoast at best, offering timid and qualified suggestions instead of unequivocal  mandates.  For instance, Resolution #3 reads:

The University Senate encourages faculty, students, and other researchers, where practical and not detrimental to their careers, to (a) publish in open access journals or journals that make their contents openly accessible shortly after publication, (b) negotiate with the journals in which they publish for the right to deposit articles in an open access repository, and (c) consider the price of the journal as one factor in the decision on where to publish.

Unlike the Harvard and MIT resolutions, which discusses only self-archiving of final manuscripts, the Maryland resolution combines self-archiving with open access publishing, along with several related issues.  Its lack of focus is undoubtedly the cause of its failure.

The assumptions that open access publishing is both cheaper and more sustainable than the traditional subscription model are featured in many of these mandates.  But they remain just that — assumptions.  In reality, the data show just the opposite.  Institutions like the University of Maryland would pay much more under an author-pays model, as would most research-intensive universities, and the rise in author processing charges (APCs) rivals the inflation felt at any time under the subscription model.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not opposed to mandates based on moral claims.  I view healthcare as a moral right and something that should not be reduced entirely to the discourse of economics.  But many of the mandates for open access are based on economic claims — claims that are either baseless or contradicted by evidence.

If there is any moral responsibility, it is for the crafters of these mandates to stop disguising moral mandates in economic clothing.  The data simply do not support this, and I hope that at least some faculty will see through the disguise.

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Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is a publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist.


11 Thoughts on "Open Access Voted Down at Maryland"

What’s particularly interesting here, from the Diamondback article, is that it appears the faculty were divided between science professors and humanities professors:

“Throughout the debate, science professors faced off against humanities professors – a rift caused by the vast differences between scientific journals and humanities journals.”

Are the scientists, with their vaster funding resources, pushing the humanities faculties into an untenable position, where their own journals will be forced to go under? It’s one thing to expect the Wellcome Trust or the Rockefeller Foundation to add to grants to pick up the costs of author-pays models, but where would that money come from for a comparative literature professor or as cited in the article, a professor in feminist studies?

This is where the resolution and the discussion got confused (based on the report). If an institution mandated publishing in open access journals, then there is reason to be concerned about the different funding models across disciplines. Or at least until open access humanities journals can find a reliable funding model that scales. But that isn’t what the resolution said, so the reported “rift” seems to come from a misunderstanding.

But I also have to question Phil’s statement that all research institutions would pay more under an author-pays model. That assumes that the institution pays all fees. But as David points out, the reported “rift” arises because the research funding agencies in the life sciences are also willing to fund publication costs. Other funders may as well. I also wonder if this is true of all research universities or only those with a large research staff and low faculty to student ratios. That doesn’t describe all that many universities. But I haven’t repeated his study at such places.

I also have to question Phil’s statement that all research institutions would pay more under an author-pays model.

The analysis was limited to the 113 member institutions of the Association of Research Libraries. The assumptions of the model can be changed in the spreadsheet and I encourage you to play with the numbers and see what you discover.

In the United States and Canada, the vast majority of published articles are authored by researchers at these 113 institutions. These institutions are the net producers of published articles. The rest of the 3,000 institutions of higher learning are net consumers of published articles.

Under a producer-pays model, net producers will pay the full freight of the publishing system, while the net consumers will enjoy the benefits. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or an accountant) to figure this out.

One might argue whether this is “fair” or not. At this point, the argument stops concerning itself with economics and starts becoming moral and political in nature.

As I wrote, I have no problem with moral arguments. I do have a problem with moral arguments disguised in false economic clothing.

Dr. Davis:

I agree with Dr. Lee that ARL libraries could lower their APCs to the extent that grant funds cover APCs. Where grants cover publication costs, those costs could be shifted permanently to foundations or a governmental entity. Given the statist philosophy of the current U.S. federal executive, the present U.S. federal government might welcome taking on those a substantial portion of these costs. Do you know of a source of data that permits a reliable estimate of the percentage of APCs that could be funded by grants at each ARL institution?

Robert Richards

Robert C. Richards, Jr., J.D.*, M.S.L.I.S., M.A.
Law Librarian & Legal Information Consultant
Philadelphia, PA

I am not sure I agree with your classification of moral vs economic arguments. After all, the modal cite count for most academic articles is approaching 0. Thus, the economic benefits of publication flow to those who produce the research, not those who consume it (e.g., positive tenure reviews, promotion, and merit increases).

Perhaps a legitimate economic argument could be made for letting those who benefit the most pay the most?

Of course, this is not based on any analysis of the data, just an observation about the difference between a moral and an economic justification.

Interesting remark. If publications are viewed entirely as serving the promotion and tenure process, then authors (and their institutions) are the only ones who benefit from publishing.

Yet one would have to ignore publication as an act of disseminating research findings to readers (most of whom are not authors and thus do not cite), as well as the benefit of this transfer of knowledge to industry and society as a whole.

The growing number of self-archiving mandates by universities and funders are not primarily “moral” or altruistic mandates: They are primarily self-interest mandates.

It is in the interest of the careers (employment, salary, promotion, tenure, funding, prizes, prestige) of scholars and scientists to maximize the usage and impact of their research. It is also in the interests of their institutions, and of the tax-paying public that funds their research, that the research they fund is used, applied and built upon as widely as possible.

Moreover, most peer-reviewed research is not health-related, and it is written for fellow-specialists, hence of no direct interest to the reading public. It is research progress that benefits the tax-paying public.

(I am not defending self-interest over morality, by the way; just pointing out — for those for whom moral motives alone are deterrents, or signs of weakness — that there’s something in it for the self-archivers, and the self-archiving mandators.)

I agree, however, that self-archiving mandates are not library money-savers, nor intended to be. Mixing up the journal-affordability problem with the research accessibility problem continues to be a big mistake misunderstanding, and a major deterrent to Open Access progress, even though the affordability problem helped to draw attention to the accessibility problem in the first place.

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