Earlier this summer, The Daily Calfornian wrote an editorial in support of the nationwide open access movement, which aims to make results of government-funded research freely available to the public online. On July 24, the UC Academic Senate proudly announced that beginning in November, anyone will be able to access UC academic papers through a UC scholarly publishing service called eScholarship. The policy has the potential to cover 8,000 UC faculty members systemwide and facilitate the open publication of up to 40,000 papers annually. Based on the tenor of the official announcement, it would appear the university is moving in the right direction toward open access.
But upon further inspection, significant excitement over the UC policy is unfounded. As it stands, the policy is contradictory because of a loophole allowing faculty members to submit waivers on a per-article basis to opt out of open publication.
The university cannot call its policy an open access one when it allows some research articles to be exempt to open access over others. The waiver essentially disincentivizes those who work for a public institution from sharing all their research and allows them to pick and choose where their research goes, thereby creating a divide between those who can afford access to a private academic journal and those who cannot. It also isn’t much different from the way faculty members originally differentiated between publishing privately in an academic journal versus publishing for public access.
Additionally, as a co-founder of The Open Access Initiative at Berkeley pointed out, the waiver option is a problem because it could lead to uncooperative publishers taking advantage of authors. Also, by giving faculty members the choice of opting out of open access, there is a good chance the best research will remain in expensive journals exclusively, meaning it will once again be inaccessible to those cannot afford subscription fees.
It is true that some professors will want to choose whether to submit their research for public access or to academic journals. According to Christopher Kelty, a UCLA professor and Academic Senate committee member who drafted the policy, the opt-out clause was included at the faculty’s request. But this clause will misrepresent a movement that is proudly portrayed as universally open. The policy sets a dangerous precedent for other schools to adopt similar policies, thinking that it is acceptable to have open access movements in which openness isn’t actually guaranteed.
The point of The Open Access Initiative at Berkeley was to disseminate UC research for the public’s benefit, whether the public is at UC Berkeley or across the globe. The UC Academic Senate had the opportunity to accomplish this goal, but instead it passed a watered-down version of the policy that probably will fail to accomplish the original goals.