The Senate Source

November 2012

Senate Considers Open Access Publishing Policy

The Academic Senate is reviewing the second proposal in five years for a systemwide open access policy that proponents say will help disseminate UC faculty research publications and will address the rising cost of journal subscriptions.

The proposal originates from the University Committee on Libraries and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC), and would create for the University a limited, non-exclusive right to make published UC faculty scholarship available in an open-access online repository housed at the California Digital Library. UC faculty would have the right to opt out of the license without seeking permission to do so.

UCOLASC chair and UCLA Professor Christopher Kelty says a major driver for an open access policy is a concern that commercial publishers—especially the very large ones—no longer serve the faculty’s interests, both in terms of cost and in their ability and willingness to take advantage of new technologies to widely disseminate faculty work. He says the goal of the policy is to maximize the impact of UC faculty scholarship and move towards a more affordable and sustainable scholarly communication system.

“Open access promotes the influence of faculty research” he says. “Studies have shown that faculty scholarship has more impact with fewer restrictions and a distribution model that privileges broad access to research. If implemented, the policy would send a powerful message to publishers that open access is the future of scholarly publishing, and would also fulfill our obligation as faculty members in a public university to disseminate our work so that everyone from kindergarten teachers to Silicon Valley innovators can use it. The policy acknowledges that the public, not just publishers and journal subscribers, should have the right to access UC faculty research.”

The Senate has discussed open access several times during the past decade. In May 2006, the Assembly of the Academic Senate unanimously approved a Scholarly Work Copyright Rights policy, initiated by a Special Senate Committee on Scholarly Communication (SCSC), which endorsed the open access concept and recommended the formation of a joint Senate-Administration work group to develop a specific proposal. Assembly’s action followed a series of SCSC White Papers that discussed contemporary challenges to scholarly communication. In 2007, however, the Senate rejected the joint work group’s proposal, which recommended a mechanism for negotiating with commercial publishers and placing UC faculty scholarship in an online open access repository.

The following year, Harvard faculty passed a resolution in support of open access, modeled on the failed UC policy. There are now 142 institutions with open access mandates, including Stanford, MIT, and UCSF, which implemented an open access policy in May of this year.

In June 2009, Academic Council unanimously endorsed a request from UCOLASC that the University actively encourage open access to publications and pursue open access initiatives and polices.

Kelty says UCOLASC was careful to address concerns expressed by UC reviewers of the failed 2007 policy, including concerns that the opt-out mechanism was too complex, would place an undue burden on individual faculty members, and could threaten their academic freedom.

“The new policy has a very liberal opt-out (or waiver) clause that makes opting out much simpler than the 2007 policy,” Kelty said. “It makes it easy for anyone to opt out of making their work available, for any reason, no questions asked.”

In addition, he says, many UC faculty perceived the 2007 proposal as an administration-led, rather than faculty-led, initiative. He also says that attitudes toward open access have changed since 2007, with dozens of universities passing open access policies, and growing awareness and support among faculty.

The increase in electronic publishing has allowed UC faculty to publish more scholarship in a greater number of journals than ever before. At the same time, the subscription cost of the average health sciences journal has risen 114% since 2000, compared to a 31% rise in the Consumer Price Index. UC libraries spend about $40 million yearly on systemwide journal licenses, but library budgets have declined, forcing them to cut back on journal subscriptions, resulting in faculty losing access to knowledge and scholarship.

Kelty points to the unsustainable subscription rate increases from some of the biggest commercial journal publishers, who routinely see profit margins over 20%, earned directly from the unpaid labor of academics publishing books and articles through them.

According to Kelty, “The big scholarly publishers are concerned about this policy—and they also want to find a safe route towards more open access. But open access supporters don't think we should wait for them to lead. Passing the policy is a way to create momentum in the system towards something that is more sustainable that meets the goal of getting our work out there to the people who need it.”

Faculty with NIH grants have been living with open access since a 2006 law went into effect in 2008 requiring scholars who publish an article based on NIH-funded research to submit an electronic version of the final, peer reviewed manuscript to the open access repository PubMed Central. In May, partly based on this experience, UCSF instituted a campus-wide open access policy.

Kelty says if approved, the systemwide implementation process for the policy will be similar to UCSF’s, but that there may be a steeper learning curve for faculty in disciplines with less experience with open access or different expectations about what a publication is and how it should be handled. The difficulty or ease of depositing an article will depend in part on the level of financial investment made by UCOP and the chancellors. While it is possible for the policy to be implemented without additional funding, the process will be streamlined with additional funding.

The Academic Senate has established a long review timeline to give faculty a chance to consider the complex issues raised by the proposal in depth. “This is a complicated issue that touches the core of the academic mission,” said Academic Senate Chair Powell. “The Senate needs to think carefully and pay attention to the details.”

The Reshaping Scholarly Communications website contains a number of resources related to the proposed policy, including Frequently Asked Questions.