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Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey Response: Open Access

by | Oct 29, 2019 | 0 comments

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Faculty Prefer Open Access, but What Type and How Do We Get There?

By Dave S. Ghamandi, Open Publishing Librarian, University of Virginia

My experience at the University of Virginia (UVa) generally matches the Ithaka S+R executive summary findings on open access (OA) publishing. I say this as a librarian who has done scholarly communication work at UVa for seven years and previously at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I recognize that faculty are heterogenous—within the same department and especially across different universities. I also analyze and interpret the results of the faculty survey from the perspective of someone who manages UVa’s new open access press, Aperio.

Unsurprisingly, the faculty survey confirmed that there’s a mismatch between incentives and desired behavior. The promotion and tenure system, or at least perceptions of its criteria, heavily influence faculty’s decision-making regarding publishing; more so among younger faculty. Choices of where and how to publish are done largely with the aim of creating currency in an academic prestige economy. This is reflected in the survey’s finding that a majority of faculty find a journal’s impact factor or “excellent academic reputation” to be highly important characteristics. The survey indicates that younger faculty are less likely than older peers to know the promotion and tenure criteria at their school, but both groups are well-attuned to the politics of the prestige economy. Strikingly, when choosing highly important characteristics, younger faculty are more than twice as likely to choose impact factor and journal reputation than open access. However, this all conflicts with the finding that 64% of faculty “would be happy to see” an all open access publishing system. It is encouraging, though, to see this number rise from 57% in just a few years. I’ve had many faculty members contact me over the years to express a desire to make their work open access and to explore options. Most of their articles end up behind a paywall because they fail to find a suitable-enough OA journal to bolster their next promotion package or they find hybrid article-processing fees to be exorbitant.

Even though the prestige economy is well-entrenched, the ground is shifting underneath it. Prestige is pricey. As more libraries cancel the so-called “big deal” packages, faculty with begin to find that their campuses subscribe to fewer of their desired journals. This is likely to happen at my university in the coming years. Tension is continuing to mount in the system because, while traditional incentives remain the norm, a majority of faculty want the broadest possible readership for their work as a way of maximizing their research findings. They want an all-OA system, but personal desire and individual choices can’t bring that into existence. For structural change to occur, faculty would need to develop and exercise collective agency and do so in cooperation with librarians and others. While the rising number of faculty who “would happy to see” an all-OA system is a sign that they recognize the personal and public benefits of OA, it doesn’t guarantee imminent change. Proposed programs such as Medicare-for-all and free tuition at public colleges do well in polls, but popularity alone doesn’t alter well-established systems.

As with all surveys, many questions are left unasked and there’s plenty of room for further inquiry. Nearly two-thirds of faculty “would be happy to see” an all-OA system, but what do they envision? Open access is a catch-all term that encompasses a spectrum of social, political, and economic beliefs. The survey indicates that faculty would be happy to keep the current publishers in an all-OA system, but is that financially possible? Faculty dislike article-processing charges (APC), so maybe they prefer and are better served by a democratic, distributed, cooperative, and no-APC system. As such, it would also be interesting to know what subset of the faculty who favor an all-OA system are willing to act on that desire and organize with others. Which subset is willing to take risks and adopt new modes of solidarity to build such a system? Based on experience, I suspect this is a much smaller number, but they wouldn’t be alone. Faculty could get involved with one of the OA efforts led by researchers and scholars such as the Open Library of Humanities, Fair Open Access Alliance (MathOA, LingOA, & PsyOA), and ScholarLed. There are more opportunities than before to work with campus-based OA publishing services and members of the Library Publishing Coalition. Relatedly, Glossa and Quantitative Science Studies successfully flipping to OA demonstrate that faculty have the power to change the course of scholarly publishing. The Ithaka S+R survey results reveal contradictions in attitudes and behaviors regarding scholarly publishing and conform to my experiences. The answers reveal tensions between rewards and incentive structures, the high cost of the prestige economy, and a desire to have one’s work as widely disseminated and read as possible. The survey’s main finding—that a majority of faculty favor an all-OA system—is a heartening one, but it also belies the difficulty in building an OA publishing system that remains accountable to researchers and scholars. A system that serves faculty well could never be created for them. It can only be created by faculty who claim responsibility for the future of scholarly publishing and who struggle together. This would be the only way to prevent an APC-dominant system from taking hold, which is something the survey shows faculty don’t favor.

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