Monday, May 28, 2012

Between Scholar and University--Sharing Knowledge, Protecting Revenue and Control--Is the UCSF Approach Worth Considering

It has become something of a truism that information is power; it is also true that power is money, or at least income.  These truisms speak to a larger issue now confrontation academic institutions--contests over the control of knowledge produced by academics. 

 (Pix from Happy 3rd Birthday, Open Access Directory!, Charlotte Law Library News, May 26, 2011)

But should a faculty to make each of their articles freely available immediately through an open-access repository, and thus accessible to the public through search engines such as Google Scholar?  And should a Faculty Senate spearhead such efforts?  The Faculty Senate of the University of California San Francisco has answered both in the affirmative.  It would be useful for Penn State's Faculty Senate to consider the same.

On the one hand, and at an extreme, university administrators tale a "we-own-you-you-and-all-you-produce" approach.  This approach starts with a few critical presumptions: (1) university employees are always working for the university when they think and research; (2) all tangible expressions of knowledge production must necessarily touch on matters with respect to which the employee was hired; (3) all of that production is owned by the university; and (4) the only issue for discussion is the extent to which the university may permit the producer of knowledge to exploit her own work.  On the other hand, and at an extreme, is the opposite approach, effectively that the university owns nothing that is not specifically requested for production and that, given the nature of the fundamental relation between university and faculty, the university has no ownership rights to any knowledge advancing work.  Under this approach the only issue for discussion is the extent to which the university may be permitted to exploit work that may have been produced using, to some extent, university resources for its creation.  Approaches in the middle embrace either a shared ownership or divide between classes of work to which the university has a greater right (where substantial university resources were used in its production) and those constituting a class of work produced by an individual for her own account in which university resources were not essential to its creation.

In many universities, including Penn State, it is sometimes hard for administration and faculty senate to work together on common approaches. In some places intellectual property rules are viewed as an administrative prerogative and faculty are reduced to the status of mere employee over whose productive life an administration might aggressively claim control.  In others, there is a sense of joint enterprise, and in a very few places the faculty has a more privileged role in determining the ownership, exploitation and control rights to its work.  The history of such efforts here have not been uniform, or uniformly positive, though recently substantial positive advances and a common position has been embraced with respect to the control and exploitation of instructional intellectual property.  With respect to other forms of knowledge production, the issue of administrative or faculty leadership (or ownership of the issue) remains very much in thee air.

At issue, beyond the power that comes from ownership and rights to exploitation and control, is that of the role of the university (and the academic) in advancing knowledge and contributing to the forward progress of knowledge through its general distribution.

Now comes the Senate of the University of California San Francisco with an interesting approach, one that may be worth considering elsewhere:


The UCSF Academic Senate has voted to make electronic versions of current and future scientific articles freely available to the public, helping to reverse decades of practice on the part of medical and scientific journal publishers to restrict access to research results.

The unanimous vote of the faculty senate makes UCSF the largest scientific institution in the nation to adopt an open-access policy and among the first public universities to do so.

Richard A. Schneider, PhD

“Our primary motivation is to make our research available to anyone who is interested in it, whether they are members of the general public or scientists without costly subscriptions to journals,” said Richard A. Schneider, PhD, chair of the UCSF Academic Senate Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, who spearheaded the initiative at UCSF. “The decision is a huge step forward in eliminating barriers to scientific research,” he said. “By opening the currently closed system, this policy will fuel innovation and discovery, and give the taxpaying public free access to oversee their investments in research.”

UCSF is the nation’s largest public recipient of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), receiving 1,056 grants last year, valued at $532.8 million. Research from those and other grants leads to more than 4,500 scientific papers each year in highly regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journals, but the majority of those papers are only available to subscribers who pay ever-increasing fees to the journals. The 10-campus University of California (UC) system spends close to $40 million each year to buy access to journals.

Such restrictions and costs have been cited among the obstacles in translating scientific advances from laboratory research into improved clinical care.

The new policy requires UCSF faculty to make each of their articles freely available immediately through an open-access repository, and thus accessible to the public through search engines such as Google Scholar. Articles will be deposited in a UC repository, other national open-access repositories such as the NIH-sponsored PubMed Central, or published as open-access publications. They will then be available to be read, downloaded, mined, or distributed without barriers.

Hurdles do remain, Schneider noted. One will be convincing commercial publishers to modify their exclusive publication contracts to accommodate such a policy. Some publishers already have demonstrated their willingness to do so, he said, but others, especially premier journals, have been less inclined to allow the system to change.

Under terms negotiated with the NIH, a major proponent of open-access, some of the premier journals only allow open access in PubMed Central one year after publication; prior to that only the titles and summaries of articles are freely available. How such journals will handle the UCSF policy remains to be seen, Schneider said.

The UCSF policy gives the university a nonexclusive license to distribute any peer-reviewed articles that will also be published in scientific or medical journals. Researchers are able to “opt out” if they want to publish in a certain journal but find that the publisher is unwilling to comply with the UCSF policy. “The hope,” said Schneider, “is that faculty will think twice about where they publish, and choose to publish in journals that support the goals of the policy.”
Worldwide Open Access Movement

UC was at the forefront of the movement to open scientific papers to the public through its libraries, and generated the first major effort to create a policy of this kind in 2006. It was a complex policy, though, requiring faculty to “opt in,” and for a variety of reasons failed to garner enough faculty votes across the UC system, said Schneider. But since then, he said, the academic and economic climate has changed substantially in favor of the open access movement.

In the past few years, 141 universities worldwide, including Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have learned from UC’s initial missteps and have created very effective blanket policies similar to the one just passed at UCSF, Schneider said. Universities throughout Europe and Latin America also have pursued similar policies. Moreover, many funders have adopted open- access policies for their grant recipients as a requirement for getting a research award, so faculty are now used to the practice of making their work freely available.

Last year, scientific, technical, and medical journals generated billions of dollars in profits for their publishers, and, for the largest publishers, profit margins were around 30 percent to 40 percent, Schneider said, “yet, our research papers are largely funded by taxpayers, submitted to the journals without compensation, and edited and reviewed on a volunteer basis by colleagues throughout the world.” Due to the high fees incurred in subscribing to such journals, many universities and the general public have access only to an abstract on each paper, which includes a short description of the research and its results.

The UCSF vote was the result of a faculty-led initiative, and makes UCSF the first campus in the UC system to implement such a policy. It has been developed in collaboration with other UC campuses and systemwide committees, especially the UC Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, with the ultimate goal of implementing the policy across all ten UC campuses.

“This vote is very, very good news,” said Karen Butter, UCSF librarian and assistant vice chancellor. “I am delighted that UCSF will join leading institutions in changing the model of scientific communications, and that UCSF authors have chosen to take control of their scholarship, providing new audiences with incredible opportunities to translate UCSF’s remarkable research into improving health care.”

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

Photo by Sarah Paris
What do you think? 

1 comment:

  1. This is a natural outgrowth of the peer-review system and I really hope PSU hops on board.