Open Access Success, California style.

(It took me a while to figure out how to post here since Savage Minds is now in a permanent state of exception. We are all Agambenians now, apparently.)

Two weeks ago the University of California system-wide Faculty Senate announced that they have passed an open access policy for all 10 campuses. The policy covers 8000 tenure-track faculty, and as many as 40,000 papers annually, making up 2-3% of the worldwide scholarly journal content. More details (and some videos of me looking really tired) are here.

This is a major success. It’s a huge university system, with an unusually powerful federal faculty governance system, and getting any organization that large to do anything forward thinking is itself a triumph, and I’m proud to have been part of it. The policy commits faculty to making their work available using the California Digital Library’s eScholarship platform, or any other open access repository. It will begin on Nov. 1st, and will roll out first at UCLA and UCI, in addition to UCSF which passed a policy in May of 2012.

There has been some attention to this policy in the news media (at the Chronicle, Reason, the Daily Cal at CDE, and a nice Atlantic article that makes the point that open access is crucial to making Wikipedia more reliable).

What does it mean?  Well if you are University of California faculty member (currently only tenure track, but it will be expanded to cover all academic personnel, and likely graduate students as well), you now systematically reserve the right to make your work openly available.  You can opt out if you don’t want to do this, but the rights pre-exist any agreements you sign with a publisher (from the point of the policy onwards).   The only expectation is that you upload a copy of your work to the eScholarship repository (or another open access repository).  CDL also has plans to automate this process– that is, to search for UC-authored publications and deposit them on behalf of authors (with approval of course).  

One thing that makes this policy even better than those that precede it is that it reserves ALL rights for faculty– faculty can determine all uses of their work, choose whether to make it available, when to make it available, and what kind of license to apply to it (i.e. whether to allow commercial or non-commercial only uses, derivative works, etc.).  Most policies don’t allow any commercial re-use, and often don’t release the works under a free license (i.e. they only allow users to read the work).  Under this policy faculty have much broader rights (and responsibilities), and that’s a good thing for future policies to consider.

I learned a ton in the process about publishing practices across the disciplines, about faculty anxieties of all sorts, and about the process of governance in a large public university. But policies like this are only a start–we need 1000 more universities to pass these policies so we can move on to making research actually available everywhere. If I can do it, you can do it <grin>.  



Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

3 thoughts on “Open Access Success, California style.

  1. But what happens when the journal insists that the author sign away their rights to post (typically for at least a year or two)? Do these agreements suddenly not apply? I assume that they cannot be ignored…

  2. Publishers, because they don’t like these policies, can ask authors to waive the license, or opt out for a period of time. Authors don’t have much recourse when this happens, other than to choose to publish elsewhere or tell the publisher that they don’t like it. But in reality, a very small number of publishers are doing this– under 5%. It’s a problem, but not a major one. Most publishers already grant authors some or all of the “green” rights to open access that this policy secures.

    One of the reasons to have these policies is to change publisher practice, to get them to embrace open access, but to do it on terms that benefit faculty and the public– not publishers. OA policies are step in that direction, but they can’t solve the whole problem.

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